"Magnificent Seven" Prevails Against All Odds
Feb. 14, 2012
CHICAGO – What Doug Bruno has done with an injury-depleted DePaul women’s basketball team is nothing short of inspirational.
Instead of retreating into a protective shell of rationalization after five of his players are sidelined---including honorable mention All-American Keisha Hampton---the Blue Demon coach came up with the perfect nickname and rallying cry for his remaining five starters and two reserves.
The Magnificent Seven.
In the background you can almost hear the distinctive musical score Elmer Bernstein composed for the classic 1960 western starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach as Bruno draws the comparison.
“Soon as we got down to seven players, I thought of The Magnificent Seven,” Bruno said. “I could hear the music in my mind.
“There’s no question about the similarities of underdogs facing incredible odds. In the movie, an oppressed farming village in Mexico hires seven gunslingers to defend them against an outlaw gang of 40 bandits.”
In the world of women’s basketball, No. 24/20 DePaul has posted a stellar 19-7 record despite playing much of the season with just seven healthy bodies.
“It’s a fearless group,” Bruno said. “Anna Martin, Brittany Hrynko and Deanna Ortiz have been fearless in the backcourt. Jasmine Penny has been tough as an undersized post. Katherine Harry has really stepped up for us. Megan Rogowski and Kelsey Reynolds have been fearless off the bench.
“Instead of wondering what could have been, our Magnificent Seven is embracing what they can be.”
The seven have been good enough to rank among the nation’s top 25 all season.
“It’s the fans who are the most shocked and surprised by how much we can do and how effective we can be,” Hrynko said. “We’ll be out for lunch or dinner and people will ask us what school are we from. They say that with so few players, we look like a high school team.
“What we’ve been able to do feels good, but we still have to keep on playing at this level and fight to make the NCAA tournament. It would be better if we had more players.”
What they do have is loads of playing time for everyone. Martin leads the team with nearly 36 minutes a game in BIG EAST Conference play, and overall she is averaging a team-leading 18.5 points. Hrynko is playing almost 33 minutes a game in the BIG EAST as a freshman point guard and coming through with 11.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game overall.
Harry is logging nearly 33.5 minutes a game in conference and averaging nine points and 9.5 rebounds overall while Penny is averaging 11.1 points on nearly 31 minutes a game in league play. Ortiz is also playing nearly 31 minutes a game in the BIG EAST.
“Everyone thought we’d be playing with five more people on the team,” Harry said. “Nobody expected to play 35 minutes a game. But coach tells us if we weren’t playing 35 minutes, we’d be complaining about playing time.
“It’s not always the easiest, but everyone is doing a good job of fulfilling their role. For me, mentally I hit a wall with 11-12 minutes left in the first and second half. I have tried to discipline myself to mentally break through that wall each time.”
Penny looked over at Harry and nodded her head.
“There have been a couple of times like that for me,” said the sophomore from Logansport, Ind. “You just stay strong until you get a sub.
“I’ve tried to step up my game during all the injuries, especially since Kat (Harry) and I are the only post players. I’ll stay in the game and help out my teammates any way that I can.”
Hrynko added: “There are times when the coaches know we need a break. Sometimes you’ve got to wait, and it could be a long wait.”
“Lots of people counted us out after we lost Keisha and Taylor,” Harry said. “They figured this would be a rebuilding year. But we don’t do that at DePaul. We don’t take a year off. Everyone knew we had to do a little more after we lost those players.
“The freshmen have really come through for us big-time. We have a tough offense and defense to learn in one year. I didn’t learn it as quickly in my first year as these freshmen.
“For Brittany to be a true freshman point guard making big plays down the stretch, I don’t know if we thought it would happen this way. But, I’m so happy it did.”
Penny has also made quite an impact in her sophomore year.
“We all knew the potential Jasmine had last year,” Harry said. “We were pretty loaded and there wasn’t much of a chance for Jas to play a lot. I knew the kind of player Jas could become, and now we’ve seen her blossom into an All-BIG EAST kind of a player.”
Despite all the adversity, an old-school coach hasn’t eased up on his players very much.
“Coach Bruno is just as demanding, and it doesn’t matter that’s there’s only seven of us,” Penny said. “He lets us know the injured players aren’t coming back and that we can’t sit there and cry about it.”
Bruno and his run-and-shoot M*A*S*H* unit take their improbable act on the road this weekend to face West Virginia on Saturday.
And if these Blue Demons come out on top and return home with another 20-win season, Bruno might softly say to himself: “Simply magnificent.”