New arena could be a game-changer for DePaul basketball
People can make or break a recruiting trip.
Doug Bruno is as convinced of this now as he was 30 years ago when he started coaching the women's basketball team at DePaul.
"It's always going to be about the people at DePaul," Bruno said.
Bruno will also tell you bells and whistles can't hurt in the race for elite recruits. And boy, does DePaul now have some big-time bells and whistles.
Bruno gave me a personal tour of DePaul's new homecourt Tuesday after the university's tip-off luncheon concluded on the main floor of Wintrust Arena in the South Loop. The 10,000-plus seat arena is about to officially open. It will host every DePaul men's basketball game, a handful of DePaul women's games, the Chicago Sky starting next summer and various concerts and events.
The DePaul women will play more games there over the years and will likely play every home game there eventually. In the meantime, the sparkling, state-of-the art venue is already helping recruiting.
"We're bringing recruits here and they're just really excited," Bruno said. "They see our vision for growing the game of women's basketball in the Chicago area. We want to fill this place, first the lower bowl with 6,000 and then we want to fill the entire place with 10,000.
"When you see the locker rooms and the weight rooms, they're fantastic. This is just a great opportunity for us."
Everything is bright and shiny and spacious and state-of-the art. The men's and women's offices and locker rooms are identical, complete with meeting rooms and film rooms with big-screen TVs.
Immediately inside the main doors of the women's locker room is a huge lounge with a gigantic wall-mounted television. A kitchen with a 6-foot cooler stocked with sports drinks overlooks it. A few steps to the right is the entrance to the locker room, an airy, circular area with a DePaul logo on the ceiling in the middle of the room. Under the logo is a matching circular couch.
Each locker has a wood door that opens to locked storage areas. Each locker also comes equipped with power and a phone charging station -- essential for today's athletes.
The bathroom is beautifully done, with shower heads that stretch at least 10-feet high.
Connected to the locker room is an entrance to a huge training room that includes whirlpool therapy jet tubs. Beyond the training room is a bigger weight room exclusively for the men's and women's basketball teams. It has everything.
With this facility, DePaul can keep up with the Joneses in college basketball and now outrun many of them.
DePaul struggled in the past to match the facilities of the big football schools that boast bigger budgets and acres of facilities. As a private Catholic university, DePaul is landlocked in the city and could only do so much.
Wintrust Arena, located on Cermak Avenue as part of the McCormick Place complex, should be a recruiting game-changer for the Blue Demons.
"The bells and whistles, you need them now in recruiting," Bruno said. "But, it's the people who negatively recruit against us ... that's really why you need the bells and whistles.
"We like to think that we've always gotten our recruits to say yes to us for deeper reasons than just the sizzle. But now we've got that (the sizzle), too."
For years, Bruno has been the main attraction for the program, and responsible for attracting top talent. Now in his third decade of coaching, Bruno has built one of the most consistently successful programs in the country and has been rewarded with coaching positions on the women's U.S. Olympic team.
He also has kept a family feel in his program by maintaining strong ties with former players. Many return on Alumni Day and line the court from baseline to baseline. It's an impressive and inspiring showing.
"Teammates live with you forever," Bruno said. "I personally believe that the greatest facility that we have at DePaul is our people and that's always going to be the case. No matter how beautiful a building is, it's still about the people."