Thursday, October 20, 2016

DePaul's new arena serves as an opportunity for both basketball programs and the South Loop area

                                 Photo Credit: Geno Green

The construction of the new Event Center at McCormick Place brings not only a ray of hope for the South Loop community in Chicago, but an opportunity from both sides of the spectrum for the DePaul Blue Demons men's and women's basketball teams.

The DePaul men will play its final season at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL, while the women finish out at McGrath-Phillips Arena in the Lincoln Park neighborhood before moving into the new digs for the 2017-18 season.

Despite being left out of the NCAA Tournament for the last 12 seasons, men's coach Dave Leitao, who led the Blue Demons to their last appearance in 2004 in his first stint, believes the new arena could serve as the new heart of a revitalized South Loop neighborhood, once known for its rail yards.

"For someone like me who is not from Chicago and gets the dynamics of the area, the [South Loop] area has been overshadowed," Leitao said. 

"From getting to talk to city planners who have an understanding of what is going to happen in the next 3-5 years in this area, the vibrance of the new event center and having restaurants/boutiques will form a new part of the city. To have the South Loop be a vibrant part of the community for the people that not only living here, but the ones who are visiting to come to this area to eat and shop is huge."

Even with the potential boon of South Loop, Leitao knows keeping recruits in the Chicagoland area serves as a key priority as stars such as, Derrick Rose (Memphis), Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor (Duke) bolting to go to colleges out of state within the last decade.

"DePaul has been marketed over a long period of time as Chicago's school and now that we are going to be right in the heart of the city next season to have everyone from all sides of the city congregate here as its meeting place really speaks to staying home and is the message we have been trying to bring for awhile," Leitao said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum as one of six Division I schools (Notre Dame, Connecticut, Stanford, Tennessee and Oklahoma) to make the last 14 NCAA Tournaments, DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno emphasizes winning as the golden key to recruiting within the Chicagoland area.

"I love to think that is an added benefit, but at the same time, I think what we have produced on the floor is also something that's gotta start enticing players to understand and see we are only one of six schools to have gone to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments and the other five programs are some really good company to be in," Bruno said.

Even with high standards, Bruno embraces the challenge of getting to play in front of many as 10,000+ fans beginning next season.

"We are really thrilled for the new arena," Bruno said. "It is going to be great for DePaul and the City of Chicago and at the same time, the university is about the people. We have the best facilities in America because DePaul has the best people and when you have that on your side, then that is the best facility. The new arena will not only make what are already the best facilities great, but even better."

For DePaul senior guard Brooke Schulte, the circle will become full this April as she graduates in the first official event at the new Event Center at McCormick Place.

"It's crazy to think that this is my last season and you have this amazing arena going up," Schulte said. "I was here to see the groundbreaking and the progress and effort put into it since makes it awesome to see the building now."

For outgoing players all the way down to coaches, DePaul's new facility will serve a new era for generations down the line.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.