Bobby Simmons played a decade in the NBA after starring collegiately at DePaul and on the high school level at Simeon in the Chicago Public League.
May 17, 2013
More Information: A Championship Vision
CHICAGO - Bobby Simmons' reaction to the announcement of the new DePaul basketball facility came straight from the heart.
"Man, I wish I could put my uniform back on and play for coach (Oliver) Purnell right now," said the former Blue Demon star who went on to a 10-year career in the NBA and played in the 2012 NBA playoffs with the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I am very excited about the new arena. At DePaul, I never had the opportunity to play in the city in front of Chicago fans. This is going to be great for our basketball program."
It was a glorious day in Lincoln Park, and for all the loyal and passionate members of Blue Demon nation, Thursday was an unforgettable moment in the history of DePaul athletics when a long-held dream finally came true.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's formal unveiling of the 10,000-seat multipurpose events center near McCormick Place that will be home to DePaul men's and women's basketball set off a celebration among Blue Demon faithful yearning for a home court closer to home.
"I'm pinching myself a little today," said DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto who has been at DePaul since her days as a student-athlete in 1974. "There has been talk for such a long time about DePaul building its own arena in the city.
"This is a very historic and prideful day."
DePaul is a partner with the city of Chicago, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and Navy Pier in a colossal project to boost Chicago's tourism, the city's convention and trade-show industry along with revitalizing the historic Motor Row and nearby neighborhoods in the South Loop.
The steadfast and visionary leadership of DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., and his unique ability to find a common ground with Emanuel and McCormick Place CEO Jim Reilly led to what the Chicago mayor described as an unprecedented partnership.
"This facility will bring the Blue Demons much closer to the largest segment of our fan base and will add significantly to the momentum that our basketball programs have been building in recent years," Holtschneider said.
"I'd like to keep our student tuition from rising. Any way we can keep the cost down so I don't have to put this on student tuition is a wonderful thing."
Construction of the events center is expected to begin in 2014 with the plan that DePaul would play its first game there at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
Amidst all the excitement, Holtschneider wanted to reach out and thank Rosemont mayor Brad Stephens and all the people at Allstate Arena for all dedication and hard work in being the home of Blue Demon men's basketball since 1980.
"We have nothing but gratitude for the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and for the city leaders who have been so supportive for so many years," Holtschneider said. "It has been a wonderful relationship."
Ponsetto echoed Holtschneider's sentiments.
"I'd like to give thanks to Rosemont for all their years of hosting us and their unwavering support of men's and women's basketball," Ponsetto said. "I spoke with the mayor of Rosemont on Thursday morning and he couldn't have been more supportive."
The new arena underscores DePaul's belief that college basketball presents high-impact opportunities to promote the university's reputation.
In addition, alumni find the broadened name recognition helps when competing for jobs nationally.
"The DePaul Blue Demons have had a long and storied tradition in college basketball," said James M. Jenness, chair of DePaul's board of trustees. "We are looking for our new home at McCormick Place to play a key role in the future of that tradition."
Locally, the new arena could become a dramatic factor in attracting top student-athletes to the DePaul men's and women's basketball programs.
"It's already starting to impact our recruiting, beginning with the incoming class," Purnell said. "This is going to help not only in the city, but also nationwide.
"This will become one of our major selling points. Facilities are a huge factor for basketball prospects."
Women's basketball coach Doug Bruno has the unique perspective of having played for legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer at Alumni Hall and also having coached the final women's game at the time-honored gym in 2000.
"Today is a great day to be a Blue Demon thanks to the great leadership of Father Dennis Holtschneider, mayor Emanuel and Jean Lenti Ponsetto in bringing DePaul back to Chicago," Bruno said. "It's also a special day for Ray Meyer and Gene Sullivan and all the players who have performed at DePaul."
Bruno talked about his program's impressive NCAA tournament resume despite being the road team in just about every game.
"Now, we'll be able to play an NCAA tournament game on our own home court," he said.
DePaul will have naming rights for the events center that is bordered by 21st Street, Indiana Avenue, Cermak Road and Prairie Avenue. It will be easily accessible by public transportation with a new Green Line `L' stop being constructed two blocks away.
The new facility will feature no fewer than six locker rooms, including dedicated locker rooms for the DePaul men's and women's basketball programs, two locker rooms for officials and visitors' locker rooms; training rooms with suitable conditioning equipment and hydro-therapy stations.
There will also be offices for coaches; sound system, video, scoreboard and ribbon-board; wireless and TV capabilities, including TV truck access points; media, hospitality and interview space; concessions space; auxiliary box office; merchandise and gift shop; and internal and external signage.
In addition to the 10,000 chairback reserved admission seats will be a generous allocation of premium suites, club seating and loge boxes.
"In all of this, the top priority for doing this has always been our students," Ponsetto said. "Bringing basketball back to the city makes it more accessible for our students.
"Father Dennis worked tirelessly to engage with the city of Chicago. The mayor and Father Dennis talked about what each other needed.
"I want to thank Father Dennis for being a terrific visionary who wants everything good for DePaul. He wants everything good for Chicago as well.
"You could see his passion for DePaul and his love for the city of Chicago during this whole process."