By Chris Emma-
(CBS) ROSEMONT, Ill. — Brandon Young had had enough of the Cleveland Melvin questions.
Frustrated from DePaul’s 50th consecutive loss to a ranked opponent — an 87-62 setback to No. 6 Villanova on Wednesday — and distraught from his friend and teammate being dismissed from the university, Young was finally fed up.
When asked if he had been in contact with Melvin, the senior guard quickly interjected with a subject change.
“We’ve got to come out and fight for 40 minutes,” Young said in a stern tone. “And worry about our opponent.”
The Blue Demons are ready to move forward without Melvin, their leading scorer who was suspended for four games before being dismissed from DePaul on Monday. The university hasn’t disclosed reason for his removal.
Within the DePaul program, nobody was closer to Melvin than Young. The two were classmates, hail from Baltimore and became close companions upon arriving on campus in Lincoln Park.
“It’s sad,” Young said. “That’s a brother that I came here with our freshman year.”
When Melvin and Young arrived for coach Oliver Purnell’s first season, the Blue Demons’ future appeared promising. Purnell had led Clemson to three consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament berths, and he was poised to wake up a weary DePaul program.
The breaks never followed for Purnell. There were far too many misses than hits in recruiting and more misfortune than anything else. DePaul continuously whiffed on prize prospects from its own city, most notably falling out of the Jabari Parker sweepstakes.
Of all the woes for Purnell, the departure of guard Shane Larkin stung the most. He would lead a lackluster Miami program to its first ACC title and deepest NCAA Tournament run ever, that before becoming a first-round draft pick.
Losing is not something Purnell was accustomed to prior to arriving at DePaul. His worst record at one stop was 44-42 in three seasons with Radford, his first head-coaching gig. He turned that team into a 22-game winner by year three.
In four years with Purnell, the Blue Demons have gone 40-74 overall and 8-55 in conference play — currently 2-10 in the rebuilt Big East. The latest adversity dealt to DePaul has a troubled team feeling blue.
“We’ve got to move forward,” Purnell said. “When you’re a team and somebody goes down or somebody is missing, that’s why they call it a team — somebody else has to step forward.”
For a program down like DePaul is, there’s not much more to do than look toward the future. But the reality is, it’s very uncertain.
What’s known is DePaul will move into a state-of-the-art $173 million arena in 2016, but that’s about it. The futures of Purnell and athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto are very much up in the air, even beyond this season.
With a sizable investment in the program, can the university continue to back its current sad state?
Fans aren’t showing up to support the Blue Demons, a trend building long before Purnell’s arrival. A widespread marketing campaign throughout Chicago — some billboards ironically touting Cleveland Melvin as “Next” for DePaul — hasn’t resulted in ticket sales.
Wednesday’s listed attendance was 7,387, roughly twice the actual number of fans attending at Allstate Arena. Even a bribe student bus that allows food and alcohol during travel to the games brought just a few dozen from the Lincoln Park campus.
As a whole, DePaul is in shambles. That hasn’t stopped the current players, even amid great adversity, from pushing it in practice. This remains the program’s dim hope for the future.
“We’re just trying to turn things around, to see better days,” Young said. “We’re going to keep working, not give up and keep our heads up.”
Added Purnell on the team’s resiliency: “That’s why you call it team, family, organization — all those things.”
The loss of Melvin is just the latest blow for the Blue Demons. At the end of what appears to be another abysmal campaign, DePaul will have some key questions to answer about the direction of its basketball program. The future remains very uncertain.
It’s easy to look up from rock bottom. There isn’t any other option.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmmaScout.