Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bruno Stunned by Special Honor

DePaul figured out a way to repay Doug Bruno for the last 24 years as one of the top women's basketball coaches in the country and an inspirational mentor to several hundred players.

Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto carefully orchestrated a Kodak moment that left even the normally loquacious Bruno virtually speechless.

At the end of the annual Doug Bruno Challenge Dinner fundraiser Monday night at the Cubby Bear, Ponsetto announced that next season, the floor at McGrath Arena will be formally named Doug Bruno Court.

Bruno stared straight ahead, then used a blue cloth napkin to stem the tide of emotion streaming down his cheeks.

"He was so shocked," said his wife, Patty Bruno. "First came the tears, then his body started quivering. Nobody said anything about the surprise, and nobody slipped up.

"We did tell Doug that tickets to the dinner weren't doing so well. Doug was pretty down. I just let him vent because I couldn't say a word."

Ponsetto played her role to perfection, looking very concerned and asking Bruno to reach out to friends. She told him that to build up the crowd he could invite all of his sons---Bryan, Kevin, David, Brendan, Patrick and Bradley

"Jeanne set me up," Bruno said. "She kept telling me that I've got to help fill the room. When she said that all my boys could come, that really threw me off.

"I'm shocked, humbled---I'm not worthy. I don't think DePaul owes me anything."

The measure of this man was evident in a crowd three times the size of the usual Challenge Dinner.

It was evident in the looks of respect and admiration on the faces of his former players, and the colorful anecdotes they shared about a most memorable time in their lives.

It was reflected in the good-natured barbs and old-school stories from lifetime friends such as Dr. Jack Raba, Quigley South teammates Kevin Moore, Jerry Girsch, Mike Ivers and their coach, Dick Flaiz.

There were ex-DePaul teammates and friends Jim Marino and John Lawler along with Jim Corgel and Mary Sarna. The guys from Rogers Park---Larry Swoboda, Dan Irmiter, Marty Halston, Don Bosco, Louie Rego, Paul Vickrey, Paul Kelly, Tim Roti and Dan Murphy---couldn't miss this special occasion.

Standing off in the background was Jack Fitzgerald who also coached Dwyane Wade at Richards.

These are the folks that have supported Bruno at every step on his incredible journey to 479 career wins along with 18 appearances in postseason tournaments. They have delighted in his every accolade, including being named to the coaching staff of the USA Women's National Team.

Bruno was the best hockey player at Quigley South who got cut from the sophomore basketball team as a sophomore. That drove him to become a hard-nosed, overachieving 6-foot, 2-inch rebounding specialist after giving up hockey and baseball.

"I was working at Ray Meyer's camp the summer after I graduated from Quigley, and Illinois State and Winona State kept calling me," Bruno said. "Coach Meyer came over one day and said: 'I'm tired of that phone constantly ringing. Why don't you just come to DePaul.'

"My parents dropped me off at the corner of Webster and Fremont in 1968, and just like that, my life was changed forever."

Bruno transformed himself from an undersized power forward into a Division I point guard with sheer determination and force of will. And with the exception of a two-year stint coaching the Chicago Hustle women's professional team, has been at DePaul ever since.

"I came up with the idea of the Doug Bruno Court during a golf outing in Chicago last spring," said Harry Shields, a close friend of Bruno's the last 43 years who lives in Nashville, Tenn. "Doug has done so much for the university and been so loyal.

"He has had offers to coach elsewhere but Doug really believes in DePaul and all that it stands for. I told Jeanne about the idea and she did a great job putting it all together.

"What kind of a guy is he? I'd trust Doug with my life."

There was one very special person who couldn't make it to the Cubby Bear on Monday night.

"His dad (Richard) just passed away," Patty Bruno said. "I wish he could have been here. He would have been so proud of him."

Bruno stayed late into the night, making sure to personally thank everyone.

"I will never forget what happened on this special night." Bruno said.

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