NCAA Talk

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

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USA TODAY

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

Dan Muller didn't even have to say anything.

The Illinois State men's basketball coach certainly didn't want his team to lose focus, not with what the game against Bradley meant for the Redbirds' NCAA tournament chances. 

But as Bradley mounted a comeback in the second half of what initially appeared to be a blowout, senior point guard Paris Lee stepped up and delivered all that needed to be said.

"Paris led us like he always does," senior forward Deontae Hawkins said. "The defense was slacking later in the game and Paris called us out and told us, 'We're too old to keep following our old habits.'"

[RELATED —​ MVC tripleheader on CSN Wednesday night, including ISU-Missouri State at 8 p.m.]

The Redbirds wound up cruising to a 64-50 win over Bradley to improve their record in the Missouri Valley Conference to 13-1 (21-5 overall) and Lee took home MVC player of the week honors for his effort.

It was all the more important given the audience at Redbird Arena Saturday night.

At halftime, Illinois State honored the 1998 team, the last Redbirds squad to make it to the NCAA Tournament back when Muller was filling an important role as a player instead of a coach.

Now in his fifth year at the helm of ISU, Muller has improved the Redbirds' record in the MVC in each season. With four conference games left — including Wednesday night's tilt against Missouri State on CSN — Muller has already set a new high mark with 13 conference wins.

And he's been leaning heavily on Lee to do so.

Muller said Lee's impassioned mid-game speech to his teammates has become a common sight this year as Lee — a native of Maywood, Ill. just outside Chicago — has grown more comfortable in a leadership role.

"Paris is pretty locked in," Muller said. "He's been a coach on that floor all year; he has been since he's been here [at ISU]. That's one of the areas he's probably improved the most over the last four — his leadership, his competitive spirit, his comfort level and taking control of the team."

Lee admitted his transformation into a leader was not always a natural fit.

"I feel like I had no other choice but to start maturing because we had a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of younger guys looking up to me," he said. "So I had to. I was kinda forced to grow up. 

"In previous years, I've always had teammates that were able to take the load from me, talk, do everything I should do. But this year, I had no choice but to [step up as a leader]."

Lee is all in — down to his red-tipped dreadlocks that he joked gives him more swag and a pair of sick red Jordans — on getting the Redbirds back to the NCAA Tournament in his final season. He's already set a new career high in assists, thriving as a playmaker/facilitator.

"I'm very hungry, man," Lee said. "I'm gonna continue to play the right way, not try to do too much. Just try to do the right thing to help my team win."

DePaul hands men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao extension through 2023-24

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USA TODAY

DePaul hands men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao extension through 2023-24

DePaul announced Thursday they’ve extended the contract of men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao through 2023-24. Terms weren’t disclosed.

“We are happy to reach an agreement to continue the improvement and stability that Coach Leitao has instilled in our men’s basketball program,” athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said in a press release. “His vision of academic excellence, athletic excellence and community service mirrors DePaul’s mission in developing outstanding student-athletes and future leaders in our society.”

Leitao just wrapped up his fifth season in his second go-around as DePaul’s head coach. The Blue Demons started off hot, going 12-1 in non-conference play while picking up wins over Iowa, Minnesota and Texas Tech.

They struggled mightily in Big East play, going 4-15 with wins over then-No. 5 Butler, and later Xavier in the Big East tournament, prior to it being canceled due to COVID-19.

Fans and alumni have grown increasingly restless as DePaul has failed to move up from the cellar of the Big East. They’re 64-98 overall the last five seasons, finishing last in conference three times. Their best finish came in 2018-19, when they went 7-11 and tied for eighth.

Last season, Leitao led DePaul to its first postseason berth since 2007, resulting in a second-place finish in the College Basketball Invitational tournament. 

Leitao has acquired some talented players the past few seasons, including transfers Max Strus (now a two-way guard/forward with the Bulls) and point guard Charlie Moore (formerly of Cal-Berkeley and Kansas). Forward Paul Reed is a potential 2020 NBA draft first-round pick. 

Leitao's 2019-20 recruiting class ranked 34th nationally, according to 247 Sports. Forward Romeo Weems (Michigan Mr. Basketball) and guard Markese Jacobs (Uplift) headlined the group.

“I appreciate DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto for her continued support,” Leitao said. “The process of laying the foundation for sustained success evolved into a strong start to this season before a tough run through the conference schedule.

"I’m proud of the resilience of our players and staff to finish the season strong before all of our lives were interrupted with the coronavirus outbreak. The response we received from our fans and supporters all season was outstanding and we can’t wait to continue to build excitement at Wintrust Arena in the future.”

NCAA announces an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes

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USA TODAY

NCAA announces an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes

The NCAA announced Monday evening they will allow spring athletes an extra year of eligibility after the spring season was upended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After the announcement was made, many fans immediately noticed that this was only for spring athletes (baseball, softball, lacrosse, etc.) and not for winter athletes. Winter athletes, including basketball, had their seasons suddenly cut short as the pandemic dramatically increased in severity in February and March, right as these teams were entering postseason play.

In their official statement, the NCAA cited excluding winter athletes from the extension because their regular season had either ended or had been nearly completed. 

Winter sports were not included in the decision. Council members declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed.