Freshmen Ready to Build on Proud Basketball Tradition
Jan. 30, 2014
CHICAGO – Meet DePaul’s deep and diverse freshman class, the reinforcements brought in by coach Doug Bruno to provide quality depth in the short term and to perpetuate a nationally renowned women’s basketball legacy in the long run.
You can begin with the guards---Jessica January, Brooke Schulte, ShaKeya Graves and Madeline Crowell. The backcourt is the spark that fuels the combustion of Bruno’s high-octane, pedal-to-the metal run-and shoot offense which is averaging 85 points per game and reached the 90-point-or-better threshold eight times.
Unless you come up with a turnover, fast breaks go hand-in-hand with defensive rebounds and outlet passes. For that, Bruno recruited the 6-foot, 4-inch Brandi Harvey-Carr and the 6-3 Meri Bennett-Swanson.
Such a combination of size, speed, shooting and unselfishness is what this Blue Demon freshmen class is all about.
“A good thing about our freshman class is that we can all play various positions,” said January, who had 14 points and four assists in Wednesday night’s 91-85 victory over Marquette and is averaging more than eight points coming off the bench. “Even an inside player like Brandi has a variety of skills. Everyone in our class is versatile.
“I like to run and pass the ball. My high school team did that a lot. I try to do whatever I can to help the team win. It’s easy for me to fit into DePaul’s style of play. We’ll pass it to the open player or whoever is hot shooting the ball.”
The athletic, speedy Graves fits right into the template of the Bruno backcourt.
“You never know what is going to happen, but I came in ready to work hard,” Graves said. “Every freshman wants a chance to get on the court and contribute as soon as possible.
“My best assets are my ball handling and passing. Our team passes the ball a lot. All that passing is great because we’re always looking to hit the open player. It comes from having trust in one another.
“We have a whole team of talented players, and our passing makes us a better team. We can set up anybody and expect them to score.”
And that’s why DePaul (16-5, 7-2 in the BIG EAST Conference) is third in the nation averaging nearly 21 assists per game.
“Coach preaches to us about sharing the ball,” Schulte said. “If you play well defensively, it will create opportunities for offense. Keep moving the ball and your shots will come.
“Our point guards Brittany Hrynko and Chanise Jenkins are so willing to distribute the ball. Brit has this amazing pivot move and will pass the ball behind her back before an opponent can recover. I’ve seen her do some amazing things in practice.
“We all play for each other. When you give the ball up, you know your teammate is going to score a basket. That helps relieve pressure, and you’re not dependent on one person to score. Everybody picks up the slack and distributes the ball evenly.
“Jasmine Penny could have a 30-point game one night and Megan Rogowski could hit eight 3-pointers on another night. It forces the other team to defend us all over the court.”
But every shot can’t find the bottom of the net, and that’s where Harvey-Carr and Bennett-Swanson come in.
“Coach always talks about rebounding as a ‘want-to,’” Harvey-Carr said. “How badly do you want to rebound? You need a lot of that ‘want-to’ if you want to rebound like Katherine Harry did in her career at DePaul. It’s not enough being just big at this level.
“In high school, I got a lot of rebounds by being bigger than other players. But to be a big-time rebounder in the BIG EAST, you have to become more competitive and stronger.”
Bennett-Swanson nodded her head in agreement.
“Katherine Harry was an amazing player who led the BIG EAST in rebounding,” Bennett-Swanson said. “That was her thing, and it’s a really tough hole to file. Coach focuses a lot of rebounding. It’s going to take a while to get rebounding like Kat gave us.”
Both Harvey-Carr and Schulte received a medical redshirt last season.
“Having been here for a year, I know what to expect,” said Harvey-Carr. “It can be tough at times for the incoming players. I tell them to keep their heads up and that things get better as you get used to playing at DePaul.
“I told them about coach Bruno and how excited he can get. There were times when he yelled at me last season, but it was all in the moment. It lets you know that you have to play better in support of your team.”
Sitting out enabled Schulte to clearly envision what Bruno is trying to accomplish.
“Sitting out with the injury helped prepare me for this season as I saw the game from the bench standpoint,” Schulte said. “I learned all the plays and began to understand the concept of college basketball.
“At practice, I’m able to understand the concept coach Bruno taught that day and get it right away. You have to be prepared mentally and physically before you can get on the court. You make the coach play you. He will call your name if you’re better prepared.
“The way I’ve improved this season is that I don’t overthink as much. I was worried about making mistakes last year. I’ve changed my attitude. Mistakes are going to happen, and you just have to move on and keep playing your game.”
It’s interesting how all six of these talented athletes found their way to Lincoln Park.
“Recruiting was really stressful,” Harvey-Carr said. “My mom really wanted me to go to Seton Hall because it was close to home. When I said that I liked DePaul, she didn’t like that. My official visit on Sept. 11, 2012 was the first time I’d been to Chicago and I liked the city. I also liked the team and the coaching staff.
“Then I went back home and took an official visit to Seton Hall. In my mind, I kept going back and forth between the two schools. I saw the difference between Chicago and New Jersey, but also I wanted to make my mom happy.
“One day, I went outside and sat in the car with my dad and told him it was DePaul. He said that was fine with him. I called coach Bruno from the car and said I was coming to DePaul. He screamed so loud. Then, I went back inside and told my mom. There were some tears, but she said she understood my decision.”
Bennett-Swanson made up her mind in a Mexican restaurant.
“DePaul started recruiting me early during my sophomore year at Vernon Hills,” she said. “Iowa and Kansas State were the other schools that recruited me the most. I had been to DePaul a number of times on unofficial visits and DePaul became my measuring stick. Were other schools like DePaul? Was there any other place as good as DePaul?
“I made my decision during a visit last April. After an open gym, the players and I went to a Mexican restaurant. The whole team was super chilled, laughing, and having so much fun. As I sat there, I realized how much I really liked this team.
“After dinner, I called coach Bruno and said I was coming. He was really excited and just kept laughing for a long time. I told him nobody compared to DePaul.”
Crowell decided DePaul was the ideal place to combine basketball and Army ROTC. Crowell took the Army Oath of Enlistment during a pre-game ceremony in front of her coaches, teammates, family and fans on Jan. 19 before the Blue Demons’ victory over Villanova.
“I love Chicago and I have an aunt who lives here,” Crowell said. “At first, I was going to stay close to home (Bel Air, Md.) for basketball. My focus shifted as a junior in high school and my mom brought up the possibility of DePaul. It was a perfect fit for me with women’s basketball and Army ROTC.
“I had a tryout in September and was officially welcomed to the team at the end of October. I’ll never forget the day Lisa Ryckbosch texted me to come to the women’s basketball office after my classes were done.
"The coaching staff was sitting in coach Bruno’s office, and that’s when I got the good news. Coach Bruno said he couldn’t guarantee me playing time and that I’d have to earn my minutes. He said practices can be long and hard. He added that if I keep working hard, my time will come. He wanted to know if I still wanted to be part of the team. It was like, yes, I’ll enlist right now! I was so happy.
"I’ve always wanted to play Division I basketball. Now, to do it at DePaul and to play for the legendary coach Bruno is amazing. To do both basketball and ROTC is a perfect fit.”
January was a top recruit who narrowed her choice down to Miami and DePaul.
“I chose DePaul because it was my favorite team,” January said. “I was also being recruited by Miami, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern and other Big Ten teams.
"I really liked the DePaul team. Brittany Hrynko was my host and she made me feel real welcome. I liked talking to the coaches and the style of play here is a good fit for me.”
Bruno’s relentless recruiting was the difference for Schulte.
“It was a big factor that Doug was one of the only head coaches who called me every week,” Schulte said. “I can see now how busy he is, and yet he sets aside so much time to talk to recruits.
“On my official visit, the team was like a family to me and welcomed me with open arms. I had a great time on my visit, and driving up and down Lake Shore Drive---it was beautiful. Where I come from (Germantown, Ill.), we don’t have anything like it. I made my decision for DePaul during that visit.”
The sought-after Graves found a happy medium with DePaul.
“I wanted to get away from home (Inkster, Mich.), but not too far away,” Graves said. “St. John’s was too far away. Michigan and Michigan State were too close.
“I came for my official visit in November of 2012 and Brandi was my host. I made up my mind after I had breakfast with the players. I was glad to get that process out of the way.
“I think our team has a good chance to win the BIG EAST title. The NCAA tournament is not the easiest thing to win. Hopefully I’ll be able to play in my first NCAA tournament."