DePaul, Loyola seniors react to abrupt end to college basketball careers

NCAA cancels the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, ending what would have been DePaul’s 18th straight women’s tournament appearance.

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DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, left, and players celebrate with the tournament trophy after their win over Marquette during an NCAA college basketball game in the Big East women’s tournament final, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Chicago.

AP Photos

Just days after DePaul won its third consecutive Big East tournament title, DePaul senior Kelly Campbell was getting her shots up after practice like she always did. She was preparing for her fourth and final March Madness experience.

Coach Doug Bruno’s heart sank when news broke that the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

“Is Kelly still shooting?” Bruno asked a DePaul staff member in his office.

Campbell was oblivious that her collegiate career had come to an end as the NCAA scrapped all upcoming winter and spring competitions because of the evolving public health threat the coronavirus poses.

“When Kelly found out, she stopped shooting and said, ‘I have to go for a run,’ ” Bruno said.

Meanwhile, DePaul’s only other senior, Chante Stonewall, was alone in the training room when her phone began to blow up with texts.

“I just stared at my phone,” Stonewall said. “I kind of expected it, but it’s still surreal. It’s shocking.”

Hundreds of players, especially seniors, had similar reactions. A season of hard work over in a blink of an eye. Hopes of a Final Four appearance — or better yet, a championship — gone.

”You never really know when your last game is going to be, but for it to end like this is really sad,” Campbell said. “I’m glad we got to end on a win and win the Big East tournament, but I wish I could have had a chance in the tournament.”

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The Loyola women’s team learned its season — the program’s best under coach Kate Achter — ended suddenly before the Ramblers’ first conference tournament game.

“I’m still in shock,” senior Tiara Wallace said. “I’m still surprised, I’m sad, all these kinds of emotions that I’m feeling within the past 24 hours. I wish I could see how far we could’ve made it in the [Missouri Valley Conference] tournament, and it’s kind of sad that it happened so abruptly. But I still feel like we had unfinished business.”

And the DePaul men’s team found out the news it wouldn’t play another game during halftime of the Creighton-St. John’s game.

“We could see it coming, I don’t know,” senior Jalen Coleman-Lands said. “It was a bummer when we found out.”

And so many other schools have similar stories.

The Northwestern women’s team won its first Big Ten title in 30 years and was slated to go dancing for only the second time since the turn of the century. Meanwhile, the Illinois men’s team had its best season since 2005 and was also March Madness-bound.

Northwestern and Illinois declined to make players available.

March is the time when miracles happen. And Coleman-Lands was hopeful that DePaul — who started the season 12-1 but stumbled in conference play, winning only three conference games — was the next Cinderella team, like Loyola in 2018.

”I felt like [the conference tournament] was an opportunity for us to pretty much display our talents and our growth throughout the season and try to win it all,” he said. “But, like I said, with it being cut short due to this, it’s kind of like an unfinished book to our story, and that’s the part that’s most frustrating.”

Though it’s disappointing, most agree the NCAA made the right call. And the governing body plans to grant spring sports student-athletes an extra year of eligibility.

However, this seems to be the end of the road for winter sports players who are out of eligibility.

“I can’t really see that happening because we played most of our season,” Campbell said of the possibility of being allowed to stick around for another season.

The consensus seems to be that seniors would give anything to lace up for one last game.

“If I do have the chance to play with my team just one more time, I think I would take that,” Wallace said. “Because … we built so much into this program, it’s really like a sisterhood for us. And we really wish we could’ve ended it on the court rather than in a hotel room.”

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