March 16, 2017 10:02:25 AM
Like many aspiring basketball players, Doug Bruno thought he was going to move on to a career in the NBA.
As a player for DePaul men's basketball coach Ray Meyer, Bruno and his teammates had an advantage in that the NBA's Chicago Bulls practiced in the Blue Demons' gym, so Bruno had a chance to go against greats like Jerry Sloan and Norn Van Lier.
But Bruno also had another love: sportswriting. As an English major at DePaul, some of the greats of Chicago newspapers, like Tim Weigel, Bill Jauss, and Dave Condon covered his exploits as a member of Meyer's squads. Those contacts gave Bruno the idea he could become a copy boy at one of Chicago's four daily newspapers.
That's when Bruno's career path took a turn.
While working as a truck driver the fall after he graduated from DePaul, Bruno received a phone call from a local high school coach who was looking for an assistant basketball coach. Bruno's interview consisted of him being asked to teach the pick and roll and to show how to defend the pick and roll. He got the job.
One day later, Weigel called and told Bruno he had landed him a job as a copy boy.
"I told him I would love to but that I just got a team (at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago) and that I couldn't leave my team," Bruno said. "I asked him to let me finish my season and that I would call him after the season. I coached that year and I never went back."
More than 40 years later, Bruno takes pride in the fact he has earned the tag "lifer." In the process, he has built DePaul into one of the nation's most successful women's basketball programs and has become a trailblazer for the sport in the United States.
At 11 a.m. Friday (ESPN2), Bruno will lead seventh-seeded DePaul (26-7) against 10th-seeded Northern Iowa (24-8) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the game between second-seeded Mississippi State (29-4) and 15th-seeded Troy (22-10) on Sunday at a time to be determined. The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional.
Bruno, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Directors, is in his 29th-straight year (31st overall) leading DePaul. He has guided DePaul to 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments, a feat matched only by Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
In addition to his success at DePaul, Bruno has been an assistant coach for the USA Women's Basketball National Team since 2009. He has helped lead the USA to FIBA World Championships in 2010 and 2014, and to its fifth- and sixth-straight Olympic gold medals in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016.
Bruno is the only coach to be recognized twice as USA Basketball's Developmental Coach of the Year after leading the Under-18 team in 2006 and the U-19 team in 2007 to gold medals at the FIBA Americas and World Championships.
Last season, No. 6 seed DePaul defeated No. 11 James Madison 97-67 in the first round and edged No. 3 Louisville 73-72 on its home court to advance to the program's fourth appearance in the Sweet 16. DePaul lost to No. 2 seed Oregon State 83-71 in the semifinals of the Dallas Regional.
This season, DePaul has overcome a season-ending Achilles injury to 6-foot-2 junior forward Mart'e Grays and a season-ending injury to Ashton Millender (12.8 points per game in nine games). The Blue Demons also have played nearly half of the season without senior guard Jessica January, who missed eight weeks with a broken finger. January leads the team with 118 assists despite playing in only 18 games. She is second on the team to Brooke Schulte (16.4 ppg.) in scoring at 15.4 ppg.
"What I like about this team is it is getting better percentage wise shooting the basketball," Bruno said. "We didn't come out of the blocks shooting the ball really well, but they have started to get into a much more comfortable groove."
Bruno attributes his team's ability to stay the course to seniors like Schulte, Jacqui Grant, junior Meri Bennett-Swanson, one of four captains, and January. As a result, DePaul won its fourth-straight Big East regular-season championship.
The Blue Demons' attack is predicated on versatility. Eleven of the 12 players on the roster have made 13 3-pointers or more. DePaul also has assisted on 645 of its 1,007 baskets. Three hundred and six of those are 3-pointers, which ranks fourth all-time in school history. The Blue Demons are fourth in the nation in 3-pointers attempted (934).
Bruno relies on something he calls "visual athleticism" to recruit players. He said he doesn't think about whether assists lead to 3-pointers or good shooters lead to more assists. Instead, Bruno feels players who are visually athletic -- like great hitters in baseball, great running backs in football, and elite tennis players -- are essential ingredients to his program.
"We try to get the same kids Connecticut gets," Bruno said. "Quickness, size, speed, and jumping ability are not required but highly preferred, but you're going to win a lot of games with slow kids who can shoot and who have fast eyes."
Bruno also feels his program has been able to attract unselfish players who are great teammates and ultra competitive. The bonus is a lot of them also have been willing to work hard when no one is watching. He isn't sure how all of those qualities will help his team this weekend in a part of the season he calls "crash and burn basketball," when one bad day can end your season.
But Bruno, who is in his 43rd year as a coach, said he relishes this time of the year and the chance to be part of one of the best sporting events in the United States.
"I love it, and I love being here and the opportunity to play Northern Iowa," Bruno said. "There is nobody better than them right now. We're going to take it possession by possession and, hopefully, we'll be able to win a few more possessions."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.