Freshman Jamee Crockett turning heads at DePaul

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DePaul’s Jamee Crockett maneuvers past Chicago State’s Ardarius Simmons (11) in the second half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Recruiting some of the best basketball talent in Chicago was on Oliver Purnell’s priority list when he became the coach at DePaul. When he reeled in Jamee Crockett last spring, he landed his first significant catch.

After seven games, the 6-4 freshman forward from Crete-Monee found himself in the Blue Demons’ starting lineup. He has made an impact on both ends of the floor with his athletic ability.

That shouldn’t be surprising, given that Crockett was a member of the Sun-Times All-Area team as a high school senior. But things didn’t start out as planned this season.

‘‘I had a minor setback, so I had to work hard to get back in shape,” Crockett said.

That ‘‘minor setback” seemed more ominous at first: chest pains that doctors worried might be signs of a heart problem. Purnell was cautious with Crockett’s preseason activity until doctors were sure it was nothing serious.

But Crockett suffered a more personal setback when the NCAA denied close friend and former AAU teammate Macari Brooks admission to DePaul. Their goal of playing together in college still could happen, but Brooks – who played high school ball at Rich South – first must overcome academic hurdles at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, a junior-college basketball power.

‘‘It was a disappointment, but things happen and you move on,” Crockett said. ‘‘I have to move on.”

He has done it on the court, coming off the bench in the Demons’ first seven games and showing Purnell enough to earn a starting role.

‘‘He started the second half of our game against Milwaukee [on Dec. 5] and gave us a spark,” Purnell said.

Crockett made his first start last Wednesday at Loyola, scoring 11 points, grabbing three rebounds and blocking one shot before fouling out. In his second start, he had 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots Saturday against Chicago State.

When DePaul (6-3) faces Northern Illinois (0-9) on Wednesday in DeKalb (8 p.m., 670-AM), Crockett will seek his fourth consecutive game of double-figure scoring.

‘‘Clearly, he’s one of our best athletes, and we want him on the floor,” Purnell said. ‘‘He’s coming along and showing sparks with his athletic ability when he’s out there. He listens and tries. I’m really pleased with his progress.”

Crockett still thinks of ‘‘team” as part of that personal progress.

‘‘We are jelling, and we do an awesome job when we work together,” he said. ‘‘It feels great [to be starting], but .  .  . we have to keep playing together.”

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