The star of the show at DePaul basketball media day earlier this month was the school's new arena, the yet-to-be-named Event Center at McCormick Square in Chicago's South Loop.
Still under construction but progressing nicely toward a fall 2017 debut, it was the backdrop, through a wall of windows, for a luncheon at McCormick Center West to tip off the upcoming college basketball season.
And rightfully so. This new facility is beautiful, a 10,000-seat, state-of-the-art yet intimate arena connected to a hotel and convenient to public transportation, restaurants and nightlife.
Just like the women's basketball team at DePaul, it will be a showpiece.
It's also important that this new arena elevates the men's basketball team at DePaul to the national prominence it held in the 1970s under legendary coach Ray Meyer.
The women's basketball program, thanks to yet another coaching legend, Doug Bruno, is already at that level.
Under Bruno, now in his 31st season, the DePaul women are projected to win their fourth-straight Big East championship. Meanwhile, spunky senior guard Jessica January, one of the best athletes in the game, was recently voted the league's preseason player of the year, following in a long line of superstars for the Blue Demons that includes Chanise Jenkins, Megan Podkowa, Brittnay Hrynko, Keisha Hampton and Allie Quigley.
Expectations remain high for the women, and for good reason. This has become a top program, earning a No. 19 preseason ranking this year. Over the last three seasons, the Blue Demons have made two runs to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. DePaul plays a beautiful, up-tempo basketball, and is consistently among the nation's leaders in points and assists. That recipe has helped the Blue Demons win 20 or more games in 14 of the last 16 seasons.
"You'll see the same DePaul-ball that you've seen the last couple years," said DePaul guard Brooke Schulte, who joins January and former Maine South star Jacqui Grant, a transfer from Illinois, as the three seniors on the team.
DePaul averaged 81 points and 21 assists per game last season, and is one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the Big East each season.
The tempo doesn't stop on defense. DePaul often presses and pressures from baseline to baseline, causing turnovers and opportunities for easy baskets in transition.
Bruno has attracted some of the best Chicago-area players by selling his entertaiing brand of basketball. But it hasn't always been easy in this era of facility one-upmanship among college programs.
The DePaul women will continue to play most home games in 3,000-seat McGrath-Phillips Arena, located on campus in Lincoln Park. The women will use the new stadium next season for some of DePaul's bigger games, against teams such as Connecticut or Notre Dame.
"Football schools want to come after us because we don't play football, and don't have all the facilities that come with that," Bruno said. "But if your football team isn't good, then you're not powerful. And if your women's basketball team isn't good, there's nothing powerful about you.
"I love our new stadium because it's another great amenity. It's wonderful. But for me it really comes down to our location and our people. Chicago is our best facility and the people here and the people at DePaul … that is what we sell. That's how we've built our program. I'll go after anyone who wants to brag about their facilities and come right at them.
"We are so much more than that."
But building a new facility with all the bells and whistles every once in a while never hurts. The women and their sparkling play will fit right in there.
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