Bruno's Olympic Trilogy---Part Two: Memorable Moments Off the Court
Aug. 28, 2012
(Second of a three-part series chronicling DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno and his experience as an assistant coach on the USA Basketball Women's National Team that won the gold medal at the London Olympics)
Part 3: Tuesday, Sept. 4---Personal Olympic Reflections
CHICAGO - Doug Bruno is an ardent and passionate supporter of the armed services in our country.
The DePaul women's basketball coach has taken his players to the beaches of Normandy in France for a greater appreciation about the World War II origin of D-Day.
He and his team went on a special VIP tour of Pearl Harbor to gain an insider's perspective about that day of infamy.
You can imagine the goose bumps running up and down his arms when Bruno, as an assistant coach on the USA Olympic Women's Basketball Team, got to visit Arlington National Cemetery with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.
This is the same Gen. Dempsey whose plane was attacked by Taliban militants firing rockets last week at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Fortunately, Dempsey was in his room during the attack and out of harm's way.
Both the USA men's and women's basketball teams were in Washington, D.C. for exhibition games on July 16 before boarding a charter flight to England.
After a July 15 practice at the Verizon Center, Bruno & Co. went on the special Arlington tour.
"This was a magical day," Bruno said. "Gen. Dempsey rode on the bus with us. We laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and experienced the changing of the guard with the general. Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings and Sue Bird laid the wreath.
"Athletes and soldiers were standing at attention and `Taps' was played. Everyone was in tears. Gen. Dempsey had tears in his eyes. It's his men that he's watched die.
"After that, we went inside the crypt. Our 12 players lined up directly across from 12 soldiers. Following a brief speech by Gen. Dempsey, each soldier took an American flag attached to their shoulder and presented it to a USA basketball player. It was like the ultimate request to represent the United States of America.
"Then, Gen. Dempsey took us to a special part of Arlington National Cemetery called Section 60. Twenty of his own guys are buried there. We quietly reflected while reading the names on the white tombstones."
These were the kinds of images forever burned into the memory of the DePaul coach as he recounted the special moments of his Olympic experience while rubbing the commemorative dog-tag bearing Gen. Dempsey's name that had been presented to him.
The day before visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the USA women's team put on a clinic at the Washington, D.C. Armory for 60 children of military personnel that preceded the USA men's team practice.
This was an initiative by USA Basketball and the NBA to educate the athletes and integrate their minds into the concept of what our U.S. fighting men and women are giving to our country. The armory was packed with 3,000 military personnel.
Gen. Dempsey was on hand along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was the former Chicago Public Schools CEO. Arne Duncan's sister Sarah attended Bruno's basketball camp, and Arne used to hang around there before eventually becoming the leading scorer on Harvard's basketball team.
During the four-day stay in our Nation's Capital, Duncan played on a men's team that scrimmaged against the USA women.
No doubt another prominent pick-up basketball player would've relished an opportunity to mix it up with Candace Parker and her teammates.
But instead, President Barack Obama met with the women's team at the Verizon Center practice facility after the USA women's exhibition game against Brazil.
"He was loose and relaxed in the 20 minutes he spent with us," Bruno said. "It was a great interaction with the players. Vice-President Joe Biden also came by and spent some time with us.
"That's when President Obama began telling everyone that Vice-President Biden's grand-daughter is a very good basketball player and that somebody better start recruiting her."
In preparing for the London Olympics, Bruno & Co. spent four days in Istanbul Turkey for a pair of games and a couple of practices. The team stayed at a hotel near the Sea of Oman.
"We had dinner in downtown Istanbul---what a beautiful city," Bruno said. "The weather was nice and warm, and we had a wonderful time downtown.
"We flew back to London on July 25, and that night I took a walk to Buckingham Palace. London is a great city. The men's and women's teams all stayed in the Westbury Hotel, and we were the only ones staying there. The 26th was processing day with every athlete and coach fitted with their outfit for the Opening Ceremony.
"On the 27th we had a morning practice and met with Michelle Obama afterwards. She is a Whitney Young graduate."
Bruno will never forget the great view he had of the Opening Ceremony.
"Only the Olympic athletes walked in the Opening Ceremony," Bruno said. "I sat in the stands and watched. It was an unbelievable experience, and I sat with Maya Moore's mom. I had coached Maya on the 18U and 19U USA women's teams and have become close to her and her family.
"You can't get a sense of the entire majesty and spectacle when you're on the ground walking around the stadium. But that was really a sight to behold."
Immersed in scouting opposing teams during the Olympics, Bruno had little time for sightseeing.
"I took a walk to Buckingham Palace one night before the Olympics began," Bruno said. "I was so focused on my work that the only sights I saw were from the bus.
"I would take the Tube (subway) to Olympic Park and watch all the other games. I'd scout and then stay around until the team arrived for its game. There was no time to watch other Olympic events. The only one I saw was the men's basketball gold medal game."
The hoopla over winning gold on Aug. 11 came and went pretty quickly for Bruno.
"After we won the gold medal, we didn't get back to the hotel until 1:30 a.m.," Bruno said. "There was a celebration, but a lot of players had to get ready to depart later that morning to rejoin their WNBA teams. By noon, everybody was gone.
"(Team USA head coach) Geno Auriemma and I were up until 6 a.m. We talked about what a great experience it was, pulling this Olympic team together at the last minute and going on to win the gold. We reflected on how difficult it was and all the stuff we worked out.
"This is a four-year journey in which you have to finish on top."
NEXT: Tuesday, Sept. 4---Personal Olympic Reflections