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Marriage made in heaven: 30 years of joy between DePaul, Doug Bruno

Coach Bruno reached another milestone in his career coaching at DePaul for 30 years. But he doesn't plan to stop here. His next big goal is to win the National Championship

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago, IL -- Coach Doug Bruno is a man of many achievements: Coached Chicago Hustle, received the Carol Eckman Award in 2008; coached at Loyola under Gene Sullivan-they went to Sweet Sixteen; C-USA Coach of the Year 2005, Conference USA's Coach of the Decade, 2-time FIBA World Championship Gold medalist assisting with USA Basketball Women's National Team,  former President of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and consultant for the Chicago Sky.

These are just some of his achievements as a coach.

But who is the man behind all of these awards? WHO IS DOUG BRUNO?

Doug is a Chicago native who was born on November 7, 1950. His mother was a Marine for World War II, which was pretty impressive because not too many women were given that opportunity back then. When asked who was his role model, without any hesitation, Bruno responded, "My mom."

Bruno's mom instilled in him the value of hard-work. He explained how his mom was very instrumental in honing his competitiveness at home by making him work and making everything competitive around the house. Doug delivered papers when he was about eight years old, and he was a caddy at the age of 11.

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Photo courtesy of Bruno family.

"Work was just part of what I did."

"Working out 4-5 hours a day... just getting good enough, really taught me at a young age, the joy of the competitiveness, and the joy of the work ethic it takes to be a good basketball player. Basketball is a simple game to learn, but a hard game to master." -DePaul coach Doug Bruno

His dad inspired him to play sports. Bruno was a great baseball player, but an even better hockey player. He attended Archbishop Quigley High School. There, Bruno tried out for his basketball team. He competed through the entire tryout, only to find out he wasn't good enough at the end of the day. That day he made his first goal, (#3 on Doug Bruno's "Steps to Success": €”Set your Goal).

"Now I'm not like Michael Jordan, where he got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore, I was a sophomore who got cut from the sophomore team." Bruno went on to explain that he promised himself that he WOULD make varsity his junior year.

He understood that there was a possibility of 28 guys in front of him, but he worked out for four to five hours every day, (no exaggeration) staying true to his goal. He put in those hours on top of all of the housework and outside work he had to take care of on a daily basis, just to be an average basketball player.

Bruno started to realize that if he really wanted his goal to be achieved, he had to make sacrifices. He broke his dad's heart when he told him he no longer will be playing baseball. When Doug told his hockey coach, his coach made him come back and play two of the most important games of the season against their rivalries. October came back around, and Doug Bruno accomplished his first goal...he made his VARSITY TEAM!

At a young age, Doug followed his "Six Steps to Success" before they were even written down:

  1. He made a DECISION to tryout for varsity
  2. He DREAMED and VISUALIZED
  3. He SET his goal
  4. He WROTE the goal down
  5. He had MENTAL DISCIPLINE
  6. He had PHYSICAL DISCIPLINE, where he put in work everyday in the gym

"Working out 4-5 hours a day... just getting good enough, really taught me at a young age, the joy of the competitiveness, and the joy of the work ethic it takes to be a good basketball player. Basketball is a simple game to learn, but a hard game to master."

All of Bruno's influencers are names still being used around the DePaul campus, because not only did they have an enormous impact on Coach Bruno, but the University as well. The McGrath Arena, where the women's basketball and volleyball play, was named after Frank McGrath; McGrath was a legendary assistant coach to Ray Meyer.

Which leads me to another hero of Bruno's -- Ray Meyer.

Bruno explained that he would not be at DePaul as a player if it wasn't for Ray, "I would have nothing without Ray."

- - -

What did the legendary Coach Ray Meyer teach you?

"Competitiveness and work ethic." (Crazy because that is exactly what Doug Bruno is all about)

Bruno explains to me that just because one works hard, doesn't mean he/she is a player.

"You have to be an ultimate competitor. You are competing against your competitor as well as yourself in preparation and your work ethic."

Gene Sullivan (DePaul's Athletic Director, who provided enhanced opportunities for women and minority student-athletes); Dick Flaiz (Doug's high school coach); and Jeanne Lenti-Ponsetto (Doug's first female captain, who to this day is the best captain he has ever coached in 42 years), have all touched Doug's life in some way and made him who he is today.

When asked how Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto felt after hearing she was the best captain Bruno has ever coached, Ponsetto laughed, "Obviously, it's incredibly high praise...you know he reports to me now, I'm his boss," she laughed again, "but I think he genuinely means that, and it's high praise and very flattering, but I would say imitation is the greatest form of flattery."

Ponsetto goes on to say that she immolates everything she learned from Coach Bruno as a player into her daily life as an administrator, coaching her coaches.

Coach taught Jeanne that, "Your energy, your competitiveness, and your passion can not only help you be a good competitor, but also it can help you win games -- and win in everything you do. You can accomplish anything you set out to do."

"As a person, I remember one quote specifically Coach would always say, ‘Wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and show the world you're beautiful.' This is exactly what Coach does, and he inspires the people around him to do the same. I take this with me and try to have a positive attitude everyday no matter what the circumstances may be." -Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley & 2015 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year

As I was sitting in Doug's office ... I really understand the humility of this man. He had pictures of his inspirations all over his office: images and drawings of Sullivan and McGrath hung on his walls, pictures of Meyer rested by his desk. He looks at his mentors every day and pays his respect to them. He truly understands the famous saying, "Don't forget where you came from."

Doug went to DePaul to be a sports journalist (like me). He was working for Chicago Daily News under Jim Weigel. One day, Doug went to Francis Parker where the head coach was looking for an assistant.

"He told me to teach a pick-and-roll, so I did...he told me to teach defense...I taught the kids defense. Right, then he offered me the job for $600."

The very next day, Chicago Daily News called Doug saying they found a job for him as a copy boy giving him some strings (strings are prep sports stories). Bruno turned it down because he had already committed to his team at Francis Parker. Bruno tells Weigel, ‘I can't leave my team.'

"I had my team for one day, " he told me, "so that simple decision is the decision between doing what you are doing over there, Danielle, (referring to me) or sitting on this side of the journalistic aspect. So that's how I started coaching. I knew I wanted to be in sports."

To think, all of his achievements came from one decision he made in his honor, commitment and dedication to people...I guess it's not that shocking! It's Doug Bruno we are talking about!

- - -

Bruno has a very impressive mindset when it comes to basketball. Even though he says he was just an average player, he definitely isn't an average coach.

Coach teaches his team that every game day is sacred. Being that I am a volleyball coach as well, I completely agree.

As Bruno continues to be pensive as he converses, he says that if DePaul goes to the National Championship game, their season would be 40 games long. If they make it to the NCAA Tournament, and go onto the Final Four, they will play 35-37 games.

So the Blue Demons will play about 35-40 days out of the 365. The other 325 days of the year are the "Preparation" Days. Bruno says the preparation days start for the next season, the moment a team loses their last game.

He goes on to explain that during the preparation days, the Blue Demons learn and hone the 10 ingredients of becoming a player. This part of the season is also dedicated to the ladies learning the Ten "We Wills." These are memorized and then said to their teammates before every game in the locker room.

Number eight is my favorite...now read this -- imagine 13 other teammates besides you, getting ready for the game you love...One person starts, "WE WILL finish all close games! Every game has a life of its own. (Another teammate) WE WILL have the smarts, the competitive WILL to win, the competitive hate to lose and the trust in each other to FINISH each game! " Now if that doesn't get you pumped...I don't know what else will.

"Game days are life-like in a sense that it goes very quick. Game days are special...they are sacred," per his thoughts on what game day means to him and his players.

- - -

What has made you stay at DePaul for 30 years?

"DePaul is a special place. We think big time here at DePaul. Our vision is big time; our education is big time. Yet, the interaction amongst departments and between people is family simple. I have a great leader and Athletic Director."

"So that's what makes me stay here at DePaul, it's not about the bricks and mortars...it's about the people. That's why I love it."

He says DePaul is a people place; it's about values and service leadership.

"So that's what makes me stay here at DePaul, it's not about the bricks and mortars...it's about the people. That's why I love it." -Bruno

In doing so much for his university, he also attributes to the USA Basketball Women's National Team. There he coaches alongside University of Connecticut head coach, Geno Auriemma.  Before he goes on to discuss his experiences, he makes it very clear he would not have any of these opportunities had it not been for DePaul.

"The thrill you get just putting a USA jersey on, it says USA," are the only words that the assistant coach for the Olympians could utter out when asked how does it feel to coach at the National level.

I mean what can you expect?

This man is now coaching with legendary coaches when it comes to women's basketball -- and he has the opportunity to coach the best women basketball players in the world. I would be pretty speechless, too!

While the USA Basketball Women's National Team was preparing for the Olympics, General Martin Dempsey Chief of Staff, would take the National Team to Washington, D.C. There, they would visit the Arlington Cemetery, and Section 60.

"He would make us understand that both men and women, ‘there is no way to compare what we do as athletes representing the United States of America to what our  military men and women do...there is no comparison.' General Dempsey made it very clear to us, that next to being a member of the military service, that what we are doing representing America, is right there with them."

Now, I am not trying to exaggerate the moment, but being a day after Veteran's Day when I interviewed Coach Bruno, this put things into perspective real quick for me. Bruno went into his right pocket and handed me what appeared to be a key-chain coin thing.

He then tells me that here in my hand was General Dempsey's Challenge Coin! In my own hand, I am holding the world's highest challenge coin, and Doug Bruno gets to carry it in his pocket every day.

As he put the coins back in his pocket, he says,"I obviously am weeping here because when he gave this to us, we were at Section 60 of the Arlington Cemetery. This is what housed all the guys he had lost on his watch as a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He started balling. I mean you have this exceptional General in front of you crying. He says, ‘That's what we do, we laugh, and we cry.' I have been made to feel this way by General Dempsey. (BTW - Adam Silver hired General Dempsey to be the Leadership Director for the NBA)

Bruno continues:

"I get goosebumps every time the Star Spangled Banner is played before a game...you know when that Anthem is played in short of it being played for a member of our military, there is nothing like the flag being raised after you just won the Gold, and the Star Spangled Banner being played right after you win Gold. There is nothing like that ...There is nothing ... like that."

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Photo courtesy of USA Basketball.

Coach Bruno's compassion and modesty filled the room. As he was sharing his experience, seeing this man weep in front of me, I couldn't help but be in the moment and feel the same compassion and gratefulness towards our military service men and women who are sacrificing their lives everyday. Thank you!

- - -

The USA Basketball Women's National Team has won the Olympics five straight times. Since 1996, USA has won every championship except one in 2006, Russia beat them. But who really knows that unless you are a die-hard women's basketball fan.

And let's face it, there aren't too many of those in the world. According to the Women's Sports Foundation's website, "Women's sports accounted for less than two percent of network news and ESPN SportsCenter."

Wow...

The Women's National Soccer Team won the World Championship for the first time since 1999 in July. Luckily they were covered, but it was because Fox News bought the rights two years in advance.

"I want to be clear that I am happy the USA Soccer Team got the publicity they had, but USA Basketball won Gold in October," said Bruno. "Nothing was written about us. Same World Championship, about eight months before the Soccer team won it, but no media coverage. Why? Because no major network was invested in us. We had maybe a sentence."

I personally hope it changes quickly because these women are working every day to get better in their craft. Candace Parker might have similar dreams as LeBron James, wanting to be the best basketball player ever, but that doesn't mean their skill level should be compared. However, women athletes are constantly compared to men when it comes to basketball, even though they play with different styles.

Bruno explains that the NBA players are the best players on the planet. The WNBA has the best female players on the planet. When fans could start appreciating the difference between both games, rather than try to compare them, maybe then the game will be more widely covered.

"The comparison is apples to apples when it needs to be apples to oranges." The last words of wisdom I have from the legendary and humble Coach Doug Bruno.

But someone else has something to say about this impressive coach, Allie Quigley. A former Blue Demon, who is currently playing for Chicago in the WNBA. Allie says that Coach Bruno has been in her ear even after college ball, encouraging her and showing support at almost all of her home games with Chicago Sky sitting court-side. Quigley is a star in her own right, winning this year's Sixth Woman of the Year.

"Achieving Sixth Woman of the Year was really a dream come true. This was the moment I felt like I finally made it. All the hard work and ups and downs were worth it."

Quigley goes on to say how much Coach Bruno has been a part of her success. "Coach was always telling me over the years to not give up and keep letting it fly. He always gave me confidence in my game and that one day it would be on display. He believed in me, which is what helped me believe in myself even more."

I asked Allie, "What has Coach Bruno taught you as an athlete, as well as a person?" Her response, " As an athlete, he taught me a lot about enthusiasm and paying attention to the little things. So much of the game is communication and paying attention to the details.

As a person, I remember one quote specifically Coach would always say, ‘Wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and show the world you're beautiful.' This is exactly what Coach does, and he inspires the people around him to do the same. I take this with me and try to have a positive attitude everyday no matter what the circumstances may be."

There you have it. I couldn't have said it any better. I was inspired after these interviews on how much one man can achieve, not only with achievements on paper or hanging on the wall, but also with his big heart. It's incredible how many lives he has impacted.