CHICAGO -- One of the keys for DePaul's strong start has been the play of freshman wing Romeo Weems.
Firmly established as a starter and a vital two-way cog for the Blue Demons, the 6-foot-7 Weems has lived up to his consensus four-star billing coming out of high school. Averaging 29.4 minutes per game, Weems has played at least 21 minutes in 13 of 14 DePaul games this season -- including a number of appearances in crunch time.
And unlike many top-100 freshmen who come in with hype, Weems hasn't demanded shots. Defense and a team approach have been the basis of Weems' freshman season. On a team with veteran players all over the lineup, Weems has shined mostly as a defender, ball handler and overall floor leader.
"I feel like everyone is getting better and coming together every game,” said Weems. “We've had some ups and downs but we've been pulling out good wins. I just feel like we're getting better. I feel like it's all coming together well.”
Weems is putting up 8.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while shooting an efficient 52 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three-point range. DePaul head coach Dave Leitao mentioned Weems having a mature approach to things as being a reason why he's contributing to this level right away. Most freshmen take time to learn how to adapt to playing high-level college basketball. Weems has been ready to step in and play since joining the program.
"He's a very unique individual because of his maturity,” Leitao said of Weems. “It's not easy for a guy of any age to come into a lineup where he's the new guy. He's done a fantastic job of finding his niche offensively where he's going to get his spots. And defensively to be a standout at such a young age. So it's a credit to his maturity, his preparedness and his focus."
"He works out and practices as hard as anybody. He doesn't take a play off in practice, let alone in games. He listens extremely well and he can take what he hears and apply it to games. You don't know until a guy shows up in the recruiting process what he'll be like. But the others respect what he's doing."
Although Weems isn't putting up monster numbers on offense, he really hasn't needed to so far. Charlie Moore and Paul Reed have become the team's most consistent offensive weapons. Jaylen Butz gets a steady stream of post touches and lobs while Jalen Coleman-Lands gets sets drawn up for three-pointers. Having four other weapons around him means that Weems doesn't need to score in double-figures many games for DePaul to win.
"I think he's taken a little bit of a backseat,” said Leitao. “We knew he was a stat-sheet stuffer who wasn't looking to score 35 a night. But he's a worker so he's become reliable that way. His mid-range game is ever-improving. But then we have to try to fit it in the inner-workings of the offense. Because he's patient and who he is, he's not trying to force anything, which is a very difficult balance."
"I know I can score the ball. I'm not going out there forcing it trying to show I'm Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. I just go out there and play my role," Weems said. "I feel like I need to be more aggressive on offense. That's going to help the team. I've got game, so I feel like I just need to show it. My teammates always have my back and are telling me to shoot it. I feel like I just have to go out there and do it."
Even if Weems doesn't have a huge offensive role carved out yet, his standout presence on defense has been huge for DePaul. Capable of guarding up to four positions on defense, Weems is steady enough as a solo defender to guard opposing point guards or All-Americans like Seton Hall's Myles Powell. Weems is also a strong help defender who communicates and switches with ease.
"It's just a pride thing, I'm competitive and always want to win,” said Romeo. “Defense wins championships. Offense will win you some games. But at the end of the game it's going to come down to who gets stops and dives on loose balls and all of that.”
If DePaul is going to continue to build off its 12-2 start, they will need Weems to continue to play well on both ends of the floor. It'll be fascinating to see how the Michigan native continues to evolve with the offense and what he continues to show defensively as the Big East portion of the schedule really begins.