Nov. 9, 2010
CHICAGO, Ill. – From all facets of his life with significant moments and priceless memories etched in their minds---they gathered at McGrath Arena on a Saturday night to pay tribute to a regular guy who made himself into a coaching icon.
The occasion was DePaul women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno becoming only the third Division I women’s coach to have a basketball court named in his or her honor.
It also celebrated the beginning of his 25th season heading up a program that has competed in 15 NCAA tournaments including the last eight in a row.
Bruno is two wins away from a landmark 500 in his career.
What took place on the sixth day of November was an outpouring of love and emotion for a man who defines his life by how much he can help others.
Seven-time NCAA champion Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma went for the laughs with a light-hearted roasting of his dear friend and coaching colleague on the USA Women’s National Team.
Others touched on the foibles and shortcomings that drove Bruno on a relentless path to overachieve in areas where few would dare to go.
Such stories help explain how a guy who hated to attend classes and was proud of a 2.1 grade-point average (“for never going to class---that’s pretty good,” Bruno quipped) managed to earn his master’s degree during a 15-year process.
It explains why he stresses academics to such a degree that his players have one of the highest team GPAs in the nation.
The timeline on Bruno’s joyride of a life with stops at Quigley South, Loyola, Francis Parker, St. Vincent DePaul, the Chicago Hustle, DePaul and USA Basketball depict his bulldog perseverance and unwavering loyalty.
“Once Doug Bruno becomes your friend, you have a friend for life,” Auriemma said. “We compete as hard against each other as any two coaches in the BIG EAST---he’s like a bulldog.
“He is also part of my family. He is a father, a teacher. He is DePaul and the city of Chicago.
“When we play DePaul, I never see it as me against Doug. It’s my five players against DePaul’s five players. Each time we meet, at that moment, I want to beat DePaul more than anything else.
“But this is still the only city in the BIG EAST that after the game, we can all go to Kelly’s.”
Ex-Quigley South coach Dick Flaiz recalled the time Bruno came into his office to question why he was cut from the team as a sophomore.
“You can’t shoot, you can’t run, you can’t jump,” Flaiz remembered saying.
Bruno’s response: “I want to be a manager. Show me how to shoot.”
The dogged teenager went through extensive drills at practice and shot in his driveway until 11 p.m. A year later, he was Quigley’s sixth man.
Sheer will and determination helped transform a 6-foot, 1-inch high school power forward into a Division I point guard who played four years for the legendary Ray Meyer at DePaul.
It was there that he forged a lifelong friendship with Blue Demon teammate Harry Shields after they had met at Meyer’s summer basketball camp.
“He has done so much and been so loyal to DePaul despite offers to coach at other schools that I thought it was time to do something special for him,” said Shields, who first approached DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto about Doug Bruno Court.
“Jeanne and Thad Dohrn (Senior Director of Development) did a great job raising the money for this event.
“This was hard for him tonight. He doesn’t like the attention on him.”
Shields would know. So, what is the essence of this unique individual?
“Doug is absolutely honest and loyal to a fault,” Shields said. “I’d trust him with my life, my children’s lives, my wife’s life. He is my best friend, and the best friend anyone could ever have.”
He is also the kind of guy who can brighten up anyone’s day.
“If laughter is the best medicine, then we’re extremely healthy at USA Basketball,” said Carol Callan, the Women’s National Team Director. Bruno is an assistant coach on Auriemma’s staff that recently won the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championship and will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“Doug likes to laugh,” Callan continued. “Nice guys don’t finish last when you’re Doug Bruno.”
Blue Demon men’s basketball coach Oliver Purnell expressed his admiration at the court dedication.
“The credentials Doug has are incredible,” Purnell told the audience. “Look at what he’s done at DePaul and with USA Basketball. Look at the kids’ lives he has affected and all the wonderful causes he has helped.
“I’m going to continue to be inspired by what you’ve done.”
True to his nature, Bruno tried to shine the spotlight away from him and onto others.
“It’s really a DePaul story and not a Doug Bruno story,” he said. “It’s about all the players---those on the team now and those who have helped build this program with their blood and guts. We’ve built a strong tradition these last 25 years.
“But for me, it’s about this year and the years to come. Our goal is to be a contender to win the NCAA championship every year, and we haven’t done that yet.
“Certainly it is very humbling, and I’m not sure I deserve all of this. DePaul doesn’t owe me anything.
“But in the end, I’ll have lots of time to reflect on a night like this when I’m done coaching.”