DePaul’s Doug Bruno reflects on a Hall of a career powered — and inspired — by women

Fifty years to the day since Title IX was signed into law, the longtime basketball coach remembered the women in his life who taught him to be the man he is.

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DePaul coach Doug Bruno checking out his Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame display.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno checking out his Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame display.

Wade Payne for DePaul athletics

Miller Lite on ice? It must be an acquired taste, though one supposes if a person is going to close down a bar, partying until 2 a.m., at the age of 71, it might as well be his or her poison for the night.

‘‘It slows you down and hydrates you,’’ explained Doug Bruno, DePaul’s longtime women’s basketball coach. ‘‘You can be social, but it’s hard to get too out of hand.’’

What fun it was for Bruno and his crew — former assistants, former players, dear family — this month at Clancy’s Tavern & Whiskey House in Knoxville, Tennessee, after Bruno and seven others were inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Bruno, who played at DePaul for Ray Meyer, has coached the Blue Demons for 36 seasons and taken them to 25 NCAA Tournaments. He coached girls high school ball and the Chicago Hustle — the city’s first women’s pro team — and has been a leading figure with USA Basketball on the women’s side. There can be no Hall without him in it.

And the quiet beauty of a celebration such as the one at Clancy’s? It was meathead-free, with no one around who might gripe about Title IX or dismiss the women’s game. Bruno has heard such negativity on a ‘‘never-ending’’ basis his entire adult life.

‘‘When men make these comments, condescending comments toward female athletes, I just don’t understand it,’’ he said. ‘‘The true spirit of the competitive athlete transcends gender. It’s the heart and athletic soul of an athlete that makes a great athlete a great athlete. . . .

‘‘I don’t know how it’s hard to look around and see human beings are males and females, not just males.’’

Fifty years to the day since Title IX was signed into law, banning discrimination based on gender in education, including sports, Bruno was back in Chicago and reflecting on the Hall honor and his career. He kept coming back to the same thing: the women in his life who taught him to be the man he is, and that’s a man who believes women can do anything.

First there was his mother, Drotha Bruno. After high school in the early 1940s, the war raging, she joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve a handful of years before the Women’s Armed Services Act gave women permanent status in the Marines. Drotha eventually became a kindergarten teacher after the youngest of her eight children — Doug was the first — started school.

‘‘She ran the home like a drill sergeant, like a Marine,’’ he said, ‘‘and it was great to have that kind of strong leadership from a woman. She was a tough woman. You did what you were supposed to do when you were supposed to do it, or you paid a consequence.’’

Bruno2.jpg

The Bruno display in Knoxville.

Wade Payne for DePaul athletics

In seventh grade at St. Joseph’s in Homewood, Sister Raphael Mary showed Bruno how to teach and coach. This unfolded in the classroom, the nun assiduously adhering to a process of instruction, demonstration, repetition and critique.

‘‘We executed the fundamental function slowly until it was locked in,’’ Bruno said, ‘‘and then we did it again.’’

As a guard at DePaul out of Quigley South, Bruno wanted — what else — the NBA.

‘‘Like every male player,’’ he said. ‘‘But the NBA didn’t want me.’’

An English professor named Dr. Patricia Ewers corralled Bruno and impressed upon him that blowing off classes that could be avoided and spending five hours in the gym wasn’t a daily plan that would lead him anywhere good.

‘‘She taught me that your brain and your classes really are constructive parts of who you can be,’’ he said. ‘‘I guess I was just blessed with all this great female leadership without knowing it.’’

As an assistant to Loyola men’s coach Gene Sullivan in the 1980s, Bruno naturally thought about ascending in the men’s game, especially in the aftermath of the Ramblers’ 1985 Sweet 16 run with Alfredrick Hughes, Andre Battle, Carl Golston and Andre Moore. But in 1988 his alma mater — where he had coached the women for two seasons a decade earlier — called.

‘‘I didn’t really look at it like men’s was greater than women’s,’’ he said. ‘‘I just knew I needed to be a head coach.’’

All these years later, Bruno is still at it — and that raises some hard questions: How much longer will men like him remain in the women’s game? Should they get the heck out of the way already? What does it say about our sports culture that Bruno has essentially a lifetime appointment, while women such as fellow Hall Class of 2022 inductee Becky Hammon — the coach of the WNBA’s Aces and an assistant with the NBA’s Spurs — are still only slowly making inroads in the men’s game?

‘‘They are justifiable questions,’’ he said. ‘‘If men can coach both, why can’t women coach both? . . . I really do hope and believe that someday I will be succeeded [at DePaul] by a woman.’’

Bruno is under contract for six more seasons, by the end of which he’ll be 77. He still lives in Rogers Park — has since the Loyola days — and considers it the best, most diverse neighborhood in the greatest city in the world. Life is good. A Final Four and a national title before he hangs up the whistle would make it even better, but only a bit.

For now, he figures, retirement talk is like a late-night beer: best kept on ice. A Hall of a ride — powered by women who taught him, played for him, coached with him and inspired him — continues.

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