Women's Basketball Stokes Preseason Fire at Tipoff Luncheon
Oct. 25, 2017
CHICAGO – There will be all kinds of history being made this season at the sparkling, brand-new Wintrust Arena, and DePaul women’s basketball made a little on Tuesday.
That’s when coach Doug Bruno and several of his players took part in the first DePaul Tipoff Luncheon to ever be held at the new arena in the shadows of McCormick Place.
There was a palpable buzz among the crowd of well over 300 who got fired up walking through Wintrust Arena, marveling at the state-of-the-art locker rooms and other amenities while getting stoked up for another winning season.
“I’m so grateful for so many things,” said DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. “There’s the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lori Healey (Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO), Father Dennis (former DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider) and (DePaul President) Dr. Gabriel Esteban.
“We’ve been talking about bringing DePaul basketball back to the city for a long time. The looks on their faces and the joyous reactions from the basketball players the first time they stepped into their spectacular new locker rooms---that made the wait worthwhile.
“There’s a lot of gratitude in my heart, and I couldn’t be happier for men’s and women’s basketball.”
Bruno’s Blue Demons will be shooting for their fifth consecutive BIG EAST Conference regular-season title along with their 16th-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“The new arena is just magnificent,” Bruno said. “The design gives you a tight feeling in a huge building. It’s been great for us to play at McGrath-Phillips Arena, and now we also want to make Wintrust our home. That’s the goal.
“Everyone is so excited about this building. I want to see this place filled, and it’s going to be rocking. I have a lifetime vision to have people come watch women’s basketball.
“We’re hosting the BIG EAST tournament this season and will host an NCAA regional at Wintrust Arena in 2019. We want to make Chicago a mecca for women’s basketball---that’s the dream and the vision. People like Jeanne have worked their whole life to bring women’s basketball to Chicago.”
Bruno realizes it won’t be easy to duplicate last season’s 27-8 record with the graduation losses of WNBA draft pick Jessica January, BIG EAST Player of the Year Brooke Schulte and BIG EAST Co-Defensive Player of the Year Jacqui Grant.
But don’t underestimate the potential firepower of Bruno’s latest edition.
“We have two Preseason All-BIG EAST players in Amarah Coleman and Tanita Allen,” Bruno said. “Our fifth-year transfer from Vanderbilt Rebekah Dahlman is going to have a major impact on our team. She is one of only two McDonald’s All-Americans to ever play at DePaul.
“We had two starters from last year---Mart'e Grays and Ashton Millender---that are back after Ashton missed most of the season and Mart’e the whole season with injuries. Lauren Prochaska started the last 22 games and stepped up big time at point guard. Kelly Campbell made the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team last year and Chante Stonewall really came on in the second half of the season. That gives us a solid nucleus to build on.
“We have some key players coming back, and I believe we’re better than people think.”
Dahlman made the SEC All-Freshman Team at Vanderbilt before a series of injuries set back her career. Last season despite hamstring and ankle injuries along with a concussion, the talented all-around guard shot nearly 45 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line. She was averaging 14.5 points over the first six games before the injuries set in.
This two-time Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year became the first high school player in state history to ever score more than 5,000 points in a career. She also has a unique connection to DePaul.
Dahlman’s grandfather John Kundla was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame after a splendid career coaching the NBA’s first dynasty, the Minneapolis Lakers, along with heading up the collegiate program at Minnesota. With the Lakers, Kundla coached legendary DePaul great and NBA star George Mikan.
“On my recruiting visit, I walked down the hallway with all the DePaul greats displayed on the walls,” Dahlman said. “I saw George Mikan’s photo up there. It’s incredible that my grandfather coached him.
“What do I bring to DePaul? Whatever the team needs me to be, that’s what I’ll do. I want to be a part of a great winning tradition. That is a major reason why I came here.
“Honestly, I have been here for six months and this is exactly what I imagined college basketball to be like---respect for coach Bruno and amazing teammates. This is what I imagined what college basketball should be all about.”
For Prochaska, it was all about having her best season when the team needed her the most. When January missed two months with a broken finger, the heady guard from Trinity High School filled the breach at point guard.
“We lost our senior leaders from last season,” Prochaska said. “That means it’s up to the rest of us to step it up and fill in for Jess, Brooke and Jacqui. Everybody has to come together, generate some great team chemistry and provide some leadership.
“Getting Ashton and Mart’e back is really big for our team. The addition of Bekah and a really good group of freshmen makes for a very exciting atmosphere. We’re coming out with the same up-tempo running game, defending hard, passing the ball and scoring.”
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