SIMPLE SATURDAY –After giving a shout out to Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer last night, I looked at the Saturday match-ups and was thrilled to see the DePaul Blue Demons in the Final 8. Doug Bruno has been a pioneer and crusader for the women’s game for 30 years. His players always loved him – even those who were thrown out of practice on occasion. “Doug was always cool, always fair, always passionate,” said one of his former players who said she was tossed more than once.
Doug didn’t hide during pre-game time. He didn’t go sit up in the bleachers like our coach did and stare down at us to see who was ready to play, or hold on to the hope that his sweater was the lucky one. Doug Bruno put on gym shoes and warm-up, shagged rebounds and coached his players – in warm-ups.
This is what I saw in our first game against him, and when I saw it, I said, no way. He must only do this in the pre-season. I was wrong. In his suit with tie tucked in, he was under that hoop, leading by example.
From our first match-up in college, I knew Doug was a fan of Chicagoans Moira and Nancy Kennelly. Most fans considered me one of their sisters or a cousin. I remember seeing Doug out at a bar one night – maybe it was my first year, when I was a freshman. Nancy told me who he was – and I was shocked at how sincere and friendly he was to all of us. He also mentioned that he was a former English teacher turned basketball coach, and he loved that I was pursuing a journalism degree from the best school in the country. The sisters both convinced me to work his camps in the summer, which I started doing after one summer of working mostly for Don Perrelli, my coach at Northwestern.
Working the Doug Bruno Camp was like no other camp I’d worked for or even attended as a kid.
Unlike most coaches who talk for 20 minutes a day and put up a strong façade with little work behind the camp with their name on it, Doug Bruno taught throughout the day. He taught with such passion that he lost his voice and walked around with a microphone. Not only did he teach the kids details, but he taught me, the coach and college player, the details. Details I was not getting from my coaching staff. He had a passion for teaching and learning and owning a camp where everyone felt important.
The Rip-It-Through Series that I teach advanced kids with the pivots, steps, and moves all from the elbow? Thank you, Doug Bruno, for teaching it to me, and for how much creativity it sparked in my mind to move it to several areas of the court. How to use your body on a break-back to create space on a put-back? That was all Doug, too. And I know I have a picture of me doing it in a game – it’s a shot of me breaking the defender with my back and scoring on her.
Yet the greatest memory I had of Doug was one summer when I worked a week of camp and the air conditioning was broken. I also think in that same week, one of Doug’s sons was in a car wreck, and just missed being badly injured or even killed. I remember Doug sweating profusely, just like the rest of us, as we powered through days and nights of summer camp with no air conditioning.
“We cannot control the circumstances,” he said, his raspy voice echoing thanks to his microphone, “but we can always control our attitudes.”
Over and over and over. He said it so much that it became a mantra that rises within me whenever I’m in a similar situation, and in front of a group of people who need strong leadership.
That’s what you want as a player more than anything – you want strong leadership because it makes you better in the moment, and also down the road when you are in a special spot to make a difference in the lives of others.