Bruno's Olympic Trilogy: Part Three---Personal Reflections
Sept. 4, 2012
(Last 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)
CHICAGO - As Doug Bruno watched the USA women's basketball players receiving their gold medals, it was like his entire basketball life was flashing before him.
Images of coaching mentors such as Ray Meyer, Frank McGrath, Gene Sullivan, Dick Flaiz and Dan Pierce were conjured up in his mind's eye.
More than a quarter of a century's worth of memories about the talented student-athletes who have played for him at DePaul slowly turned into a wellspring of emotion.
There was a deep sense of gratitude to DePaul President Father Dennis Holtschneider and Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto for helping provide this Chicago kid from Quigley South with an opportunity to live out a dream.
Mix all of that together with Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" playing in the background and you had a powerful climax to Bruno's London Olympics experience.
"It overwhelms you, and emotions come out of you in a simultaneous rush," Bruno said. "There were tears for Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker whom I've known since they first started coming to the Doug Bruno Camp when they were 11.
"I thought about the leadership provided by Tamika, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird as each one accepted her third gold medal. I thought about Maya Moore whom I'd been working with at USA Basketball since she was 17 years old and the special bond that's developed with Maya and her family.
"I wouldn't have ever been here without my terrific players at DePaul, my assistant coaches, managers, Jeanne (Lenti Ponsetto) and Father Dennis."
During the ceremony, Bruno glanced over at Team USA head coach and close friend Geno Auriemma who can now add Olympic gold to his elite resume of seven NCAA women's basketball national championships at Connecticut.
The two of them compete to the highest degree whenever DePaul and UConn confront one another on the basketball court.
After the final horn sounds, they get together until the wee hours and share their common passion for all the good things life has to offer.
Bruno has forged a stellar career in Lincoln Park, leading the Blue Demons to 17 NCAA tournament appearances including the last 10 in a row. He has twice guided DePaul to the NCAA Sweet 16 while racking up 550 wins in his career.
Twice a head coach and twice an assistant coach with USA Basketball, Bruno has come home with the gold each and every time. He is undefeated in his USA Basketball coaching career.
There was never a question he would blend in with Auriemma in London.
"Being an assistant coach was as simple as can be," Bruno said. "There were no issues and I never second-guessed anything Geno did. I had eight years of being an assistant men's basketball coach under Gene Sullivan at Loyola (highlighted by an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in the 1984-85 season).
"In a lot of ways, Geno and Sully are similar. There are reasons for their success. Both are very intelligent and self-confident.
"I was very happy to be Ed McMahon on Geno's Johnny Carson Show."
He worked with Connecticut associate head coach Chris Dailey and video specialist Keith Anderson in scouting opponents. Bruno was specifically assigned to break down Croatia, the Czech Republic and Australia.
A pair of his suggestions clicked in the 86-73 semifinal victory over Australia in which the Aussies led the USA 47-43 at halftime.
In the second half, the Americans began playing Asjha Jones inside to help neutralize Australia's 6-foot, 8-inch Liz Cambage. They also made an adjustment on their dribble interchange offense.
After scoring 19 points in the first half, Cambage was scoreless the rest of the way. The subsequent 86-50 victory over France gave the United States its fifth gold medal in a row.
"First of all, we have the best players in the world," Bruno said. "Mix that in with an ultra-competitive style that we preach at DePaul every day.
"There was an inner resolve and unbelievable strength up the middle along with absolute unselfishness. Australia has done everything in its power to beat us. They have very good players. But our strength up the middle was just stronger."
Reflecting back, Bruno sought to quantify the USA dominance.
"As a nation, we spend so much time and energy developing players at the youngest ages across the broadest bases of population," he said.
"There are coaches in small, sweaty gyms helping kids eight and nine years old doing so much simply because of their passion for the game. These are the coaches in the trenches developing the technique and expertise, and their love of the game has only grown greater in my 26 years.
"Title IX legislation is another huge factor in our success. It is a civil right for a young girl to be educated through sports. Before Title IX, there were no gyms or people in them.
"You can connect the success of winning five consecutive gold medals directly to Title IX."
And, where does all this fit in Bruno's career?
"My highest achievement is the total body of work at DePaul," Bruno said without hesitation. "Winning a gold medal is an individual experience equal to the body of work that is the DePaul program. Going to 17 NCAA tournaments including the last 10 in a row is not an easy thing to do.
"This experience has helped me gain a stronger sense of confidence about what we're doing and accomplishing at DePaul. It's kind of a validation that we're striving in the same direction as coach Auriemma at UConn and (USA gold medal men's coach) Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
"It was a good feeling to have the USA players believing in you, and I hope that the confidence I've gained and what I've learned working with Geno will help me become a better coach at DePaul."