DePaul's 'Uncle Doug' Bruno rues losing Loyd to Irish
It's been a tough week for DePaul women's basketball coach Doug Bruno.
He watched from the sideline in agony Wednesday night in Lincoln Park as his No. 25 Blue Demons missed one opportunity after another to put away No. 5 Notre Dame.
DePaul could have won a tight nip-and-tuck game at the end of regulation. But with two seconds left and the score tied, the Blue Demons missed 2 straight free throws.
In overtime, DePaul missed its final 6 free-throw attempts -- while Notre Dame junior guard Jewell Loyd sunk 2 free throws with five seconds left to give the Irish a 94-93 win.
After the game, I talked with Loyd, who starred at Niles West. Not sure if this is going to make Bruno feel better -- or worse.
But it's a cute story, and definitely worth telling.
"Doug (Bruno) is in my phone as 'Uncle Doug,' " Loyd said with a laugh. "I still call him 'Uncle Doug.' "
Loyd, a speedy slasher who can just as easily knock down the long shot, is widely considered one of the leading candidates for national player-of-the-year honors. It was the same story when she was in high school. She was a finalist for the 2012 Naismith national high school player of the year and was a consensus All-American.
Loyd could have gone to any college in the country. By the end of her intense recruiting odyssey, she was down to Notre Dame and DePaul.
"I love it at Notre Dame and I really liked the academics there," Loyd said. "My Mom is a teacher and her sisters are teachers. Academics are really important to us and Notre Dame just seemed like the right fit for me with academics.
"But saying no to (Bruno) was very, very hard. He's a great guy and a really close family friend. We still have a good connection because of that."
Turns out Bruno has known Loyd since she was a young grade-schooler, back when she cared only about playing tennis and barely gave basketball a second thought.
"Her dad (Calvin) used to coach my son at Loyola Park and I've known (Jewell) since she was a little kid," Bruno said. "I've been watching her since she was 7 years old, 10 years old.
"She was going to our camps since she was in fifth grade. But she chose to go to Notre Dame and you know what, God bless her. I respect her decision. But it (losing Loyd to Notre Dame) was just hard. She's a great kid and a great player."
Loyd isn't the first Chicago-area All-American that Bruno has just missed recruiting.
Both Candace Parker (Naperville Central) and Tamika Catchings (Stevenson) grew up going to Bruno's legendary summer camps, which are conducted every summer at North Central College. But both Parker and Catchings chose to go to Tennessee.
"I get tired of telling these stories because it's tiring losing these players in recruiting," Bruno said.
It was a fierce battle for Loyd. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw says she remembers first seeing Loyd as an eighth-grader.
"As an incoming freshman in high school, she was so ready to learn," McGraw said of Loyd. "You have to love that about her. She's a student of the game. She watches, asks questions. Even now, she comes over to the bench and talks a lot, comes into the office and talks a lot. She's always learning.
"I remember also seeing the athletic ability. That was probably the first thing. She can really get to the basket. She's just really amazing. I think she is the best player in the nation."
Ever the diplomat, Bruno would agree -- with a slight hedge.
"Jewell is one of the two best players in the country," Bruno said. "Stewie's right up there, too."
Bruno is referring to 6-foot-4 junior forward Breanna Stewart of Connecticut, the 2014 Associated Press national player of the year. She led the Huskies to an undefeated national championship last season.
Next week, the ambitious Blue Demons fly to Connecticut to take on Stewart and the No. 3 Huskies.
Hopefully for Bruno, free throws won't be an issue in that game.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw