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Columnist
State of DePaul hoops just pathetic
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/1/2009 12:02 AM

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Here's a scary thought about DePaul's basketball team:

If I played power forward for the Blue Demons, they would have the same Big East record that they have without me.

Yes, folks, we're talking 0-16 with two games remaining.

Included is Saturday's 84-63 drubbing at the hands of St. John's, which came in at 4-11 in the conference.

For anybody who cares about DePaul basketball, the scene in Allstate Arena was painfully pathetic and pathetically painful.

For starters, the crowd was about one-third what it should be and about one-quarter what it could be.

St. John's, which lost its previous game at home to Syracuse by 29 points, led DePaul by 30 at a couple junctures of the second half.

And the fans that did attend the Demons' final home game of the season booed to keep from boohooing.

Nearing the end of his fourth season as DePaul's head coach, Jerry Wainwright looks 60-something turning 100-something.

That'll happen when you suffer as disappointing a loss as ever in a long and meritorious coaching career.

Many Demon fans, perhaps the majority, would prefer Wainwright's next disappointment be his firing.

Unfortunately for them and fortunately for him, DePaul's Jean Ponsetto is one strong athletic director. It takes strength to resist dumping a coach who likely will finish winless in conference play.

I doubt I could be that patient. I probably would have fired Wainwright at halftime of the St. John's game, if not during the 45-point loss at Louisville a couple weeks ago.

Ponsetto is like most ADs. They hate firing coaches. They love stability and longevity, especially with somebody they're comfortable with.

Wainwright is comfortable to be around. He's funny and friendly. As far as anyone knows he runs a clean program. He recruits decent young men.

And as difficult as it is to believe right now, Wainwright is a good coach.

The question is whether he's a good coach for DePaul. It's going to take the perfect guy, if there is such a person, to make the Demons viable in the Big East.

"People have to have patience," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said.

Roberts, Wainwright and Ponsetto all know that patience is in short supply in big cities like Chicago.

When you're competing against the Bulls and the Blackhawks in wintertime and the Bears, Cubs and White Sox year-round, it's easy to get lost in the race for sports dollars.

DePaul is faced with an all-or-nothing proposition. Even being good in a conference like the Big East - "a superpower league," Roberts called it - won't be good enough.

For a college basketball team to be relevant in Chicago it must itself be a superpower.

Judging by Saturday and by this entire season, DePaul is closer to Northwestern, UIC and Loyola than to Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

"I really believe our time is coming," Ponsetto said.

Sooner than later is recommended.

What used to be college basketball's little team by the "L" tracks is now a big program stuck on another kind of "L."

Chicago deserves a conference like the Big East and the Big East deserves a city like Chicago.

DePaul still has to figure out how to make the two fit together and whether Jerry Wainwright is the coaching fit to make it happen.

mimrem@dailyherald.com