DePaul’s Tony Stubblefield on replacing Javon Freeman-Liberty and getting over the late-game hump

For the Big East spring meeting in late May, the climate outside was as muggy and sun-splashed as one would expect while visiting north Florida. Conditions inside the meeting rooms, meanwhile, were more dead-of-winter-in-Nome. An air-conditioning overcompensation and frigid indoor temperatures that created ideal conditions for Tony Stubblefield to catch a cold. Which he did, laying him low for a few days after his return to Chicago.

In summary: DePaul’s men’s basketball coach spent a couple days absorbing the new faces and growing challenges in an increasingly testy conference and promptly got sick. Symbolism, thy name is an aggressive thermostat and looking across the room at the likes of Sean Miller and Thad Matta.

“I wasn’t sleeping much at night,” Stubblefield says with a smile, sitting at the head of his office conference table, “and I’m sleeping less now.”

Stubblefield’s first season at the helm of the Blue Demons was empirically a success, at least relative to the program’s doldrums for the past few seasons. DePaul tripled its year-to-year win total both overall (five to 15) and in Big East play (two to six). Of the 14 conference losses, six were by five or fewer points, suggesting a detectable pulse of competitiveness. But maintaining upward momentum will be a tricky feat for Stubblefield in Year 2. His top three producers, including the nation’s eighth-leading scorer in Javon Freeman-Liberty, are gone. There’s significant turnover both on his roster and in the leadership around the Big East, neither of which makes the job easier. “The league definitely was already very competitive,” Stubblefield says, “but it’s gotten even better.”

After bringing in a couple capable, proven scorers from the transfer portal while welcoming two former top 100 recruits to the fold, Stubblefield sat down with The Athletic to talk about getting DePaul to a point where its faitfhful can rest easy.

 

What have you learned about this job that you didn’t necessarily know until you were in it?

How much the city of Chicago wants to see DePaul be successful. I think that was the biggest thing that I’ve learned about this job — just how much people really care about DePaul (and) still would like to see DePaul win. I knew the success that DePaul had in the past. But again, when you haven’t had that type of success in a long time, it just kind of fizzles out. It is what it is. But if you do win here, they will come out. I know that. I’ve been able to recognize that. The fan base is still here, but you got to win.

Author: Lucy Green