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McGRATH: Time to give DePaul women’s coach Doug Bruno his due

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno speaks his team whike playing against Northern Illinios during second half women's college basketball game

DePaul head coach Doug Bruno speaks to his team whike playing against Northern Illinios during the second half of a women's college basketball game in Chicago on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006. DePaul won the game 71-68. (AP Photo/Joseph Oliver)

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Updated: April 10, 2014 6:36AM

The ‘‘face’’ of women’s
basketball in Chicago
belongs to a man who has six sons and no daughters.

That’s in keeping with Doug Bruno’s passionate nature. His commitment to the game is from the heart.

Bruno doesn’t have Joel Quenneville’s swashbuckler mustache, Tom Thibodeau’s smoldering fanaticism or a world championship ring to compare with the three Chicago’s reigning royalty own. But a case can be made for the 62-year-old DePaul lifer as the most accomplished coach/manager in the city, with or without the disclaimer that he’s ‘‘only’’ coaching women.

Years ago, that disclaimer might have gotten you punched in the nose. Bruno rolls with the charm and affability of a born recruiter, but he never lost the competitive fire that defined him as a point guard at Quigley South High School and on three DePaul teams coached by Ray Meyer that evolved from not so good to pretty decent while he suited up.

Meyer’s influence drew him toward coaching, and the women’s position was a matter of circumstance, not choice.

‘‘Gene Sullivan didn’t ask me to be the women’s coach; he told me I was going to be the women’s coach,’’ Bruno said, recalling the DePaul athletic director who hired him as a department aide after a brief stint coaching in high school. ‘‘He nearly went through the roof when I asked him if I’d be paid.’’

Thanks to a forward-thinking administration and some dedicated staffers, DePaul embraced Title IX legislation after it was drafted to help level the playing field for female athletes at the high school and college levels. Developing programs, though, took time.

‘‘We started with four scholarships,’’ Bruno said. ‘‘We had some girls on campus who were playing four sports, so we divvied them up. Our first road game was at Western Illinois. I asked Sully how we’re getting there. He said, ‘You’re driving.’ Our own cars.

‘‘Later, I bought this cargo van, and we’d pile 15 girls into it. Seat belts? It didn’t even have seats. They’d sit on the floor with the equipment bags.’’

Today DePaul basketball flies charter, men and women.

The travel upgrade reflects the stature the women’s team has gained under Bruno. He was there at the beginning but left for 10 years to coach the short-lived Chicago Hustle, then to assist with the Loyola men’s team after Sullivan took over the Ramblers. Bruno returned to DePaul in 1988, and it has been his show ever since. He has 555 victories, a .648 winning percentage and 18 NCAA tournament appearances.

He was an assistant on the United States’ gold-medal-winning women’s team in the 2012 London Olympics and travels the international circuit on behalf of USA Basketball. But he still lives in the Rogers Park two-flat he has called home for 35 years.

DePaul’s home court at McGrath-Phillips Arena bears Bruno’s name, and he has earned enough coach-of-the-year citations to paper the walls of his second-floor office at the DePaul Athletic Center.

But that’s not happening. Family photos and assorted memorabilia recalling past players and teams would have to come down, along with group shots of some of the 70,000 aspiring hoopsters who have attended Bruno’s camps through the years, including most of his staff and nearly half his current roster.

Besides, Bruno believes individual awards undermine the unselfish ethos of good basketball.

‘‘Coach of the year really means team of the year,’’ he said. ‘‘It means you had the best players, the best support staff, the best boss, the best operation.’’

And maybe the best philosophy. Bruno is a true believer in equal opportunity for female athletes.

‘‘The United States is still working through the sins of slavery, but people don’t recognize gender discrimination in the same light,’’ he said. ‘‘Women athletes do the same things men do; they’re just not as celebrated.’’

The Big East women’s tournament, with DePaul as its host, moves from McGrath-Phillips Arena to Allstate Arena for the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds Sunday through Tuesday. Bruno is hoping for decent crowds, but he doesn’t obsess about things he can’t control.

‘‘My job is to coach my team,’’ he said.

But after every practice, every game, every media encounter, he’ll thank the assembled reporters for supporting women’s basketball.

And he means it.

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