CHICAGO — DePaul Coach Joey Meyer and pressure are well acquainted with one another.
Four years ago, Meyer faced the pressure of succeeding his father, Ray Meyer, who had become a legend during 42 years at the Chicago school. The elder Meyer had built the program into a college basketball powerhouse and Joey had to face a fishbowl existence trying to maintain the standards.
Last season, he was able to get some of the critics off his back by posting a 28-3 record and reaching the semifinals of the Midwest Regional. He was rewarded with a new, five-year contract and this year promised to be one with a little less pressure than in the past.
"The pressure is always there. Now, we're coming off a 28-3 season and everyone wants to think we can do it again," Meyer says. "I guess there is always going to be pressure."
Meyer has handled pressure with varying degrees of success. In his first season after his father's retirement, DePaul went 18-10 and lost in its first NCAA tournament game. The following season, the club slumped to 16-12 in the regular season. Boos could be heard in the Rosemont Horizon, a rarity when Ray Meyer was coaching. But Joey Meyer responded with two upset victories in the NCAA East Regional before losing to eventual NCAA runner-up Duke.
Last year, DePaul was unranked in the pre-season top 20 but mid-season was the last unbeaten team in Division I.
"Expectations have a lot to do with it. When people don't expect as much of you, there isn't as much pressure," says Meyer, whose scholarly look makes him look much younger than 38. "Last year, no one figured we could do much. Then we were in the top 10, unbeaten. People then thought we could go all the way."
But LSU stopped the DePaul express in the Midwest Regionals at Cincinnati. Some of the same critics who criticized Meyer in his first season were again saying DePaul could not win the "big game."
DePaul Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw thought otherwise. With Meyer's contract up, he granted a five-year renewal with a raise.
"To me, Joey Meyer is one of the finest coaches in America. He was voted coach of the year by CBS last year and has proven what a great coach he is by his record," Bradshaw says.
Meyer's mood also has changed. He was once combative with his critics, particularly those in Chicago. Buoyed by success on his own, Meyer has mellowed and even jokes about those who don't care for his coaching style.
"I was home watching some tapes and the color commentator was really on me," Meyer smiles. "Really didn't bother me too much, though."
Meyer was referring to his father, Ray, who serves as color commentator on radio broadcasts of DePaul's games.
"Imagine what the pressure would be like if you were coaching before sellout crowds all the time and were on national TV and your dad was watching you and criticizing you on a 50,000-watt radio station," says a DePaul athletic official who asked to remain anonymous. "I think Joey has really matured. The pressure is still there but he's handling it all so much better."
DePaul has four starters returning, will have all of its games on television including several national appearances and will face renewed high expectations from fans and alumni. The big graduation loss was Dallas Comegys, now with the New Jersey Nets.
"How do we replace Dallas? We don't, at least not with one individual," Meyer says.