CHICAGO -- DePaul's Cleveland Melvin may only have one college basketball season of experience, but he can't help but feel like a veteran surrounded by so many freshmen.
"I'm kind of feeling a little older," Melvin said, laughing. "It's great when the young guys come in, and you get to teach them new stuff. It's been great, though. All of the young guys have been listening. They look up to me as a leader."
DePaul's six freshmen received another crash course in Blue Demons' basketball Thursday as coach Oliver Purnell used one of 10 practices he's allowed before taking his team to France in August. DePaul will hold four practices in June and six more in August before departing.
"We have a tremendous advantage right now," Purnell said. "We need to make sure we take advantage of that advantage, if you will. Because the 10 practice days -- we can practice two or three times a day if we would like -- is very important. We'll play four or five games, and those are important as well because the preparation time where we get in the gym by ourselves is the most important thing."
DePaul's trip to France has been in the works since Purnell's first week on the job in April of 2010. He assumed then he would be bringing in a large recruiting class prior to the 2011-12 season, and knew the best way to give that group experience was utilizing the NCAA's rule that permits a team to go overseas once every four years. Purnell also took teams overseas while at Dayton and Clemson.
So far, Purnell hasn't gone too in-depth with his newcomers during DePaul's practices. He's taught them just enough for them to have something to work on while he and his assistants are out on the road recruiting during July.
"We're just trying to build some foundation on the offensive end and defensive end of the floor," Purnell said.
The newcomers are also learning what it's going to take to play for Purnell, and some of them are discovering it's not that easy.
"Last week, we had three of them go down with sore knees," Purnell said. "They're not used to being pushed this hard on both ends of the floor. That's another great thing of having 10 days of practice -- most of these are double sessions -- they'll get adjusted to how hard they have to work and how hard we're going to push them."
Freshman guard Shane Larkin was quick to point out he wasn't one of the newcomers having troubles with the practices. He didn't think they were easy, but they were what he anticipated.
"They've been high intensity," Larkin said. "That's what I expected coming to college -- higher speeds, stronger players. They've been good practices. I think they're making us better. Where most freshmen are just getting to campus now, we'll already have two months and 10 practices under our belts when we start the season."
None of the freshmen had stood out to Purnell, but he was sure they were going to help DePaul improve on last year's 1-17 Big East record.
"We will be better," Purnell said. "That's our goal. We want to make a leap forward.
"We're probably more talented, more athletic. We should be deeper, which should all bode well for us being a lot better."