By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) –– Maggiano’s banquet hall on Monday hosted the city’s five college basketball programs and one giant elephant in the room.READ MORE: Tow Truck Driver Shot And Killed In Englewood
It’s been a full decade since Chicago has fielded a team in the NCAA Tournament, when DePaul and UIC joined the bracket in 2004. It’s been 29 years since Loyola’s last dance, a magical Sweet 16 run. Meanwhile, Northwestern and Chicago State have never even been there.
The Windy City is widely renowned as the basketball capital of the country — with recent years bringing names like Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Jabari Parker to local allure — but success hasn’t found the hometown teams.
“It’s concerning for all of us,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It’s something we’re working really hard to change.”
Inexplicably, as Chicago has become the basketball hub in America, its colleges have hit hard times. Building up is a difficult process.
“All of us are in a mode where we’re trying to build something, UIC coach Howard Moore said.
It’s no secret why Chicago is home to such basketball talent but no basketball power. The game’s bluebloods — such as Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and more — are drawing the elite names away like a whitecap in Lake Michigan.
DePaul was an underdog player in Parker’s recruitment, but the Duke Blue Devil name brand and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski prevailed.
“We have to close those gates,” said Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy, a former assistant at DePaul and UIC. “Right now, it’s open season.”
The real trouble is t’s not just the top talents like Parker or Jahlil Okafor who escape Chicago. The middling prospects do, too. Coaches from coast to coast have made Chicago a top priority.
“It’s tough because the talent in this city is as good as it gets in the country,” said Collins, who helped recruit Chicago talent to Duke while he was a Blue Devils assistant. “Not only do you have the five local schools, but you have the best of the best trying to come in here and recruit. It’s incredibly difficult to recruit our state and our area.”
None of the five schools are changing their ways. Each coach has roots established in Chicago and doesn’t plan to move elsewhere.
Each of Chicago’s five local programs are working through a phase of growth. Loyola may be the city’s best chance for a tournament team this year, with coach Porter Moser — the Rick Majerus disciple — now in his fourth season. The Ramblers have a renovated arena and beautiful lakefront campus to draw recruits.READ MORE: 5 Wounded In South Austin Mass Shooting
But a Loyola program with so many appealing draws has struggled to build a consistent winner, like the rest of the city’s programs.
“We’ve got to take steps,” Moser said. “There’s a progression to it. We believe we’re in the mode where we’re taking the right step.”
Just a few miles north along the lake, Collins believes he has Northwestern on a tournament track. The Wildcats have a promising core of young talent that will have to find its way in this new season but seems to project for a breakout in his third year, 2015-’16.
The son of former Bulls coach Doug Collins, Chris has been celebrated for his efforts in Evanston. It appears that Northwestern is in position to push for its program’s history.
“We’re going to try to do our part to give this city what it deserves,” Collins said.
Circumstances are different in Lincoln Park for DePaul. Purnell is entering his fifth season with an abysmal record of 42-77, and the Blue Demons likely need to show steady growth to save their coach’s job.
Even with a hot seat, Purnell remains cool and collected. He sees a talented core in place with Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton, plus plenty of depth to work with. He’s not afraid to dream of the big dance. The Blue Demons must take baby steps in their rebuild, but Purnell isn’t afraid to dream.
“That’s what we’re working toward and thinking about all the time,” Purnell said. “Turning that corner and getting your program to the tipping point where you’re running downhill and winning consistently.”
Perhaps the greatest recent success for Chicago college basketball — in an illustration of the recent struggles — came in 2013, when Chicago State made its first ever postseason appearance, meeting UIC in the CIT. The Flames pulled out the win but fell to a six-win season after that.
Sustaining success in Chicago has been a daunting task, though it’s something five coaches are fighting for.
“We’re not far away from having one of these city teams in the tournament,” Dildy said.
A decade’s drought makes it difficult to believe, but the five respective rebuilds are coming closer to results.MORE NEWS: 15-Year-Old Among 2 Shot In West Englewood
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.