Losing does nobody good. If only winning came more easier for DePaul’s steady lead guard Billy Garrett Jr., he would be more appreciated. As it is, he is likely the most under-appreciated player in the Big East.
Garrett, a 6’6”, 205-pound point guard from Chicago (Morgan Park High School), is entering his junior season with the Blue Demons and in his time with the program his team has gone just 24-41 (9-27 in the Big East). That kind of losing can drain and wear a kid down. All it has done is prevent Garrett from getting the due respect he deserves.
The former Big East Rookie of the Year is coming off a season in which he averaged 12.3 points and 3.9 assists per game (both tops on the team and which ranked 13th and 4th in the Big East, respectively), while shooting just .397 percent from the field and .327 percent from three-point range.
However, Garrett makes a killing at the free-throw line, where he attempted a Big East-high 158 free throws last season and connected on .832 percent of them (which ranked fourth in the conference). Garrett loves attacking the hoop and putting his body on the line. While his other shooting percentages look weak, he is more than a capable shooter when he has to. But his bread and butter is taking it to the hole and getting his points the hard way.
To know Garrett is to know a guy who is passionate about winning and overcoming odds.
After all, Garrett led his high school team to the Illinois’ Class 3A boys basketball state championship, while also being one of the few teams to beat Jabari Parker’s dominant Simeon team in 2013. His Morgan Park squad, which also included Dayton’s Kyle Davis and Josh Cunningham, beat Simeon in the Chicago Public League semifinals before falling in overtime to Whitney Young—led by Jahlil Okafor—in the city championship.
And while many teams wanted his services, Garrett was all about DePaul considering his father was on DePaul’s staff under ex-head coach Oliver Purnell. His father is also on new/ex-DePaul coach Dave Leitao’s staff.
Garrett was viewed as a four-star recruit coming out of high school, as 247 Sports ranked him as the No. 85 player in the 2013 class.
Coach Leitao on Radio DePaul – looking to lessen the load on Billy Garrett, Jr. and let him occasionally play off the ball. #dpubb
— WeAreDePaul.com (@WeAreDePaul) June 3, 2015
While he could have gone to other schools, he liked the challenge of trying to turn around the misfortunes at DePaul. His time is running out to get to the NCAA tournament, though. But this guy is a warrior and absolutely hates to lose. Soon enough that drive to compete will lead to more winning on the court no matter the odds.
And when I say he has overcome odds, I’m not just talking about on the basketball court.
You see, Garrett also has a rare medical issue in the “SC” form of Sickle Cell disease, in which red blood cells mutate into a “sickle” shape to clog vessels and limit blood flow. As a result, Garrett has to manage what they call crises, in which the patient sometimes face unbearable and very painful episodes. Garrett is the only Division I athlete with the condition.
Basketball is not necessarily the perfect antidote in remedying the pain, but Garrett loves the game too much. He would have it no other way. Garret manages his body well and takes every precaution, especially after he was sidelined a few games his freshman year after he had a crisis before a game at Seton Hall.
“Doctors have told me basketball probably isn’t the best thing for me to do, that I should try other things that aren’t as strenuous,” Garrett Jr. told Brian Hamilton of SI.com. “But I’ve been able to handle it. It’s worked out for me. I’ve been playing for so long I never really thought about not playing basketball. I’ve never really thought about, ‘I can’t do this because of the sickle cell.’ It hasn’t been easy, but I really didn’t want anybody to tell me I couldn’t do it.”
Garret’s family has a history of overcoming odds, too.
Garrett’s grandfather, Bill Garrett, was the first African-American to play in the Big Ten, when he played for Indiana from 1948-1951. That resolve in the face of adversity is a trait that has been passed down to the youngest Garrett to this day.
“I think about my grandfather almost every day because what he had to go through makes everything I do a lot easier,” Billy Jr. told David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. “Wanting to uphold his tradition pushes me to be the best I can be.”
Indiana fans giving Bill Garrett's family a standing ovation as he's honored at halftime. pic.twitter.com/2qpEbcv9
— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) November 13, 2012
Garrett is a winner plain and simple no matter what the records say. Its only a matter of time before he gets DePaul to turn the corner toward respectability.
Perhaps maybe even a spot in the NCAA Tournament is something within reach.
If you recall, DePaul did start out 5-2 in the Big East last season before its season bottomed out; which ultimately led to Purnell departing from the program at the end of the season. The Demons still amassed their best Big East win total in eight years. With three double-digit scorers returning from last season (including senior forward Myke Henry and junior center Tommy Hamilton), the Blue Demons might be closer to breaking out in the Big East than most people realize.
With a courageous, gutsy attitude, Garrett is the type of player DePaul can lean on to get over the hump. Leitao can’t ask for a better leader to help him transition back into his job as coach of DePaul. He has all the qualities you want in a basketball player. When you look at his numbers, background, pedigree and gumption, Garrett deserves his day in the sun.
So it’s easy to understand why is the Big East’s most under-appreciated star.