"DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART"
THE BLUE DEMONS
(COACH: JOEY MEYER)
With his boyish demeanor, it's not surprising that the attitude of DePaul second-year coach Joey Meyer is: "What, me worry?" But after yet another disappointing season, can such an approach be rational? What's going on here? Has Meyer been attending est seminars? Has Norman Vincent Peale been infiltrating hard-bitten Chicago?
Not so. Meyer is just counterattacking after 12 months of personal hell. First, there was the pressure of having his Blue Demons picked as high as No. 1 in some preseason polls last season. In addition, there was the trifling matter of replacing a living legend named Ray Meyer. It's bad enough having to take over for an idol, but it becomes a Freudian minefield when the idol happens to be your father. Next came the disappointment of the season itself and DePaul's now traditional belly flop in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. Finally, there were the tragedies of his mother's death and the murder last November of Chicago schoolboy Ben Wilson, a top prospect DePaul had hoped to land. Joey Meyer has good reason to expect this season to be more pleasant.
Certainly the outlook is rosier now. The team has grown accustomed to Meyer's more disciplined approach, and this season pollsters have given the Blue Demons a break.
"I think DePaul's tradition intimidated us last year," says Meyer. "We were afraid of our image instead of being excited about the great opportunity we had." This season Meyer is trying to persuade his players to shed their tentative-ness and play with more abandon. "We weren't prepared for what happened to us last year," says forward Kevin Holmes. "Now we know how bad things can go,"
Much will depend on the performances of two players; one must erase a reputation, the other must establish one. The former is 6'9" junior Dallas Comegys, he of the gangly profile and the 42-inch sleeve, whose play has ranged from brilliant to lethargic. Meyer and Comegys claim that Comegys, conscious of the importance of the next two years to his pro prospects, has a new attitude. "If I can be consistent, I think I can play with the best in the country," says Comegys.
The star without portfolio is freshman point guard Rod (Don't Call Me Rodney) Strickland from the Bronx; he was MVP in the 1985 Dapper Dan Classic. Strickland will be the offensive threat that departing starter Kenny Patterson never was. The operative adjective with regard to Strickland is "quick": He has quick hands, quick feet and an exceptionally quick release. His one liability probably will be his apparent lack of man-to-man defensive experience. Strickland sees his role very simply. "My job is to control the game and to score when I have to," he says.
The supporting cast includes 6'9" 245-pounder Marty Embry in the middle, 6'8" Kevin Holmes at power forward, and 6'5" swingman Tony Jackson. Embry (8.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game) is a solid player, while Holmes, a great leaper with soft hands, should emerge as a star with the departure of Tyrone Corbin, the Blue Demons' leading scorer and rebounder last season. Finally, look for outside-shooting freshman Terence Greene, a high school All-America in both football and basketball, to take over at off guard and Stanley Brundy, another top recruit, to help out at forward.
Can the Blue Demons win with two freshmen in the backcourt? Maybe they're just what DePaul needs to launch a new era. A hellacious schedule, including 15 games against '85 NCAA tournament teams, should provide the answer. For now, Meyer is enjoying himself in this, the season of his anonymity. "I just feel more comfortable all the way around," he says. "We have to learn to deal with pressure in an aggressive manner; we have to say, 'Let's just go after it.' " If the Blue Demons can escape the demons of their past, Meyer may stay as long as his dad.
The El-evators (from left): Brundy, Jackson, Strickland, Comegys and Holmes.