CHICAGO -- Tracy Dildy had a simple plan for returning DePaul to its once successful past when he was hired as a Blue Demons assistant in 1997.
Dildy's strategy was to make DePaul Chicago's program again. He was going to recruit the city and recruit it hard. He made stops off the Kennedy Expressway to talk to coaches and players. He connected to the Eisenhower and delivered his pitch on the West Side. He then maneuvered around traffic on the Dan Ryan and hit up the South Side.
One day, Julian's Lance Williams, a big-bodied power forward, had heard enough from Dildy and decided DePaul was the school for him.
"He was the first one who could see the vision," said Dildy, who is now an assistant coach at UIC. "Lance was the first guy who said, 'I want to stay home and make a difference.' You just needed one guy to take that chance."
Just like that, Williams made DePaul cool again, and others wanted to join him. Simeon's Bobby Simmons and Whitney Young's Quentin Richardson quickly followed. Andre Brown (Leo), Steven Hunter (Proviso East), Paul McPherson (South Shore) and Imari Sawyer (King) later jumped on as well.
"When there's been success at DePaul, it's been with Chicago guys," Dildy said. "When you don't get Chicago guys, it's hard to have success."
Dildy's formula could explain DePaul's current state. Since Dildy and head coach Pat Kennedy left DePaul in 2002, the Blue Demons have been without a significant Chicago connection. Dave Leitao's lone Chicago star was Brown, a Kennedy recruit, and Jerry Wainwright had only a few more in his 4½ seasons.
With DePaul now making another coaching change and again searching for a new direction, many believe the Blue Demons can revive their program by getting back to their roots of playing with predominantly Chicago talent.
"I think DePaul just needs to keep some of the inner-city big recruits home and get them to come there," Richardson, who now plays for the Miami Heat, said via text message. "For the last few years most of the big names, top recruits have been leaving Chicago and going somewhere else. We have great players in Chicago, so they need to work from there."
Bulls star Derrick Rose's former coach, Simeon's Robert Smith, felt the same.
"It happened before with Mark Aguirre and then Bobby Simmons, Lance Williams and Quentin Richardson," Smith said. "It takes kids staying home and being able to win national championships for their home school. They're going to have to get some guys to come in and attract other guys from the city and country. If you can get two or three guys from the city, that'll help you be on the level you need to be."
Recruiting players from Simeon and Whitney Young might be the best place to start. Both programs are stacked with talent from their freshman to senior classes. In recent years, Central Florida, Dayton, Illinois, Iowa State, Memphis, Oregon State and Purdue have landed players from both schools.
DePaul has made progress this season in recruiting Simeon's players. Smith acknowledged that the Chicago Public League coaches didn't have a stellar relationship with DePaul's previous assistants, and there was an issue of trust. Since the Blue Demons brought on Billy Garrett and Tracy Webster, two coaches with local ties, that has improved, said Smith.
Whitney Young is a different story. The Dolphins won a state championship last year and have as much talent as any program in the state -- while consistently academically qualifying their players. But Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said DePaul has never offered one of his players a scholarship during his five seasons there.
"I don't know what it is," Slaughter said. "Maybe our players aren't good enough. Maybe they don't think they're going to get them. If you don't try, you don't have a chance. Let the parents and kids decide. Kids aren't automatically going to call you and say, 'Hey, I really want to play for a last-place team in the Big East.'
"I've never known what the direction they're taking in recruiting. With Michigan State, you know they're trying to dominate the state. With Illinois, they're trying to dominate the state the best they can. I don't know with DePaul."
Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Reggie Rankin was surprised to hear about DePaul's lack of relationship with Whitney Young. Scouts Inc. has a number of Slaughter's players ranked in the nation.
"I don't know what Coach Wainwright's philosophy was, but that's shocking that [Slaughter] would say that," Rankin said. "That shocks me. You got to recruit every kid from your city and state that is good enough, and you expand from there. Seventy-five to 80 percent of your energy has to be in-state, especially like a state like Illinois. You got to start with the Chicago kids. I think it'll take a marquee Chicago guy to get it going, and the other guys will follow suit."
So far, no one has taken that leap. Wainwright's final recruiting class won't include a single player from Illinois. In November, the Blue Demons signed three out-of-state players. Two area players from the same class chose other Big East schools, as Glenbrook North's Alex Dragicevich signed with Notre Dame, and Thornton's Reggie Smith chose Marquette.
Dildy is disappointed to see where the program has gone. He does now coach at a competing school, but DePaul will always be his second-favorite team.
"I don't believe if we were over there those guys would have gotten away with the rate they have," said Dildy of the area recruits. "I don't know what the reason is, but they're not even considering DePaul. It's a great university. It has everything you need to have success there. I pull for DePaul every time except for one game a year. That's the game we play them. My five years there were great."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.