Heirman hire could bring DePaul back to prominence

File photo by Robb QuinnLa Lumiere’s Tyger Campbell drives to the basket on Michigan City’s Keishawn Lewis during a game last season.

“All’s fair in love and war and recruiting,” — Phil Martelli, men’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s University

Martelli said that during the latest ESPN 30 for 30 “One and Not Done” about hall of fame Kentucky coach John Calipari (which is a must watch and shows how good of a person Coach Cal is, but I digress).

It didn’t take long for Shane Heirman to learn that little tidbit.

Or maybe he knew it all along and has taken the sentiment to a whole new level.

On May 1, Heirman left his head boys basketball coaching position at La Lumiere — seemingly at the perfect time, with the Lakers fresh off winning the Dick’s Nationals tourney on ESPN and finishing ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today — to be an assistant at DePaul University in Chicago.

Innocent enough, right? Coach three years for a prominent prep school and take it to new heights, then go to the college ranks as an assistant as you work your way up the ladder, right?

It’s even better than that.

About a week later, Heirman showed his new bosses at DePaul it was worth the money to bring him from rural La Porte to Chicago. His former point guard at La Lumiere, Tyger Campbell, committed to DePaul, then reclassified his graduation to 2018, instead of 2019.

You didn’t know prep school athletes could do that? Neither did I, but it turns out as long as Campbell can complete his four years of high school credits in three years (or he already has and prep school is a basketball addendum), he can move on to his next basketball quest — playing for Heirman, head coach Dave Leitao and the Blue Demons.

“Some people go to college just because they like somebody, but he helps me off of the court, as much as he does on it,” Campbell told Scout.com about Heirman. “I can talk to him about anything. He’s always there. He wants to do the best for me. I know he really has my back. After we won a national championship I gave him a hug and I knew it was a real.”

Campbell was ranked as the No. 4 point guard in the country for the Class of 2019. Who knows how his reclassification changes the ranking, but it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is how taking a successful prep school coach and making him an assistant can change a college basketball team’s future.

Many of you probably don’t remember DePaul at its height of success. The Blue Demons were part of one of the most famous Final Fours ever in 1979 when two of the other participants were Magic Johnson and Michigan State, and Larry Bird and Indiana State.

Back then, DePaul was a destination with future NBA stars Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, as well as Skip Dillard and Teddy Grubbs (who was my favorite Blue Demon as a kid). They were coached by a legend named Ray Meyer, who led the Blue Demons to both of their Final Fours — the other one coming in 1943.

DePaul also had future NBA players in Tyrone Corbin (1985 NBA Draft), Dallas Comegys (1987), Rod Strickland (1988) and Quentin Richardson (2000).

But the last 10 years haven’t been good for DePaul. They were in Conference USA from 1995 to 2005, with Leitao the coach during the last three years, winning 16, 22 and 20 games — making the NCAA Tournament in that middle year.

Since Leitao left in 2005 and DePaul moved to the Big East Conference the same year, the Blue Demons have had only one winning season (20-14 in 2006-07, winning two games in the NIT). In fact, they haven’t won more than 12 games in a season since.

Thanks to Heirman, that’s going to change. Campbell won’t be the only high-profile recruit to choose DePaul because of the former La Lumiere coach who has plenty of connections. It also helps that DePaul is moving into a new 10,000-seat arena in the fall, but having the right person convincing kids to come to your college helps, too.

Don’t be surprised if La Lumiere McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen follows Campbell’s lead and follows Heirman to DePaul. Bowen is one of the top seniors without a college choice.

Back in March, Bowen said he would announce his pick in April. It’s now the middle of May and still no commitment.

Multiple recruiting websites give Bowen a 50-50 shot to pick DePaul and start playing next year to set the table for Campbell’s arrival and the beginning of the revival of DePaul basketball. And it would be due to a little prep school in La Porte County.

Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at sgorches@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.

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