Sheets of rain fell out of the sky without end, but the spirits of the Blue Demon faithful were not dampened as they waited for the first public event at Wintrust Arena since completion. On Saturday DePaul held a free event to show off the new home of DePaul Basketball. The day was highlighted by rare public practices from the men’s and women’s team, but added autograph sessions, tours of the arena and a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening. Doors opened at 10:30 a.m., just before the women took the floor.
When scrimmages Mart’e Greys, Amarah Coleman, Kelly Campbell, Tanita Allen and Ashton Millender where the first five sent out, though don’t get too carried away as head coach Doug Bruno pointed out afterward that he has yet to settle on a starting lineup.
“I think we have eight solid players who have separated themselves at the outset of the season(…) I don’t have any idea who’s going to start or anything like that,” Bruno said.
The Demons are benefitting from two contributors coming back after missing all of last season with injuries. Millender had a stress injury in the ninth game of last season while Greys tore her Achilles and missed the whole year. Greys loved watching her team succed last year, but is ready to be back.
“(Last year) was tough,” Greys said. “(We) can’t wait to get on the floor and do our thing.”
Milender said playing in the new stadium was almost like an away game because they weren’t used to it. Fans continuously trickled in as practice went on and had their own opinions on seeing the arena for the first time.
Starting at 11 a.m., tours were given to show fans the locker rooms and other behind the scenes facilities. There were a men and women’s locker room, both complete with a weight room (complete with DePaul branded weights), film rooms set up like personal movie theaters and a team lounge. Scott Sowizrol, a ticket holder for 37 years, rated the current men’s team as mediocre but thought the new facilities should help them get better.
“It’s highly effective as a recruiting mechanism to have the amenities they have for the players underneath those stands,” Sowizrol said.
Matt Cavanagh has been a season ticket holder since graduating in 2009 and said he has been frustrated with the team, but recent developments have him feeling cautiously optimistic. Saturday was his first viewing of the stadium he thought was amazing. As a former student he thought of how much easier it would be to get to Wintrust from campus.
After the women’s practice there was a ribbon cutting ceremony, featuring speeches from DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto and Wintrust CEO Edward J. Wehmer. After cutting the rope, signifying the official opening of the arena, the day wrapped up with the men’s basketball practice.
The men’s team filled the stadium with sounds of cheering on teamates and communicating on the floor. These could be signs of a new mentality that head coach Dave Leitao is trying to get his team to reach.
“We’d like to think we are bigger, we’re more skilled, and we’re deeper,” Leitao said at the tip off luncheon. “But we’re still very much challenged in the fact that we haven’t done it yet. That’s our biggest deal now, is to get guys to go from the mentality that they’ve had to a different mentality that not only can they compete, but we can compete for the reason of winning.”
After practice, junior Eli Cain noted that the plethora of veterans they have, like graduate transfer Marin Maric, are helping to build the new culture. Maric would add that it is all about starting a winning tradition and that winning the little things will allow them to win games.
The talk is there, but we won’t know how real it is until the Nov. 11 opening game against Notre Dame, where Wintrust will be tested on how many fans it can truly draw and the team will be tested on how far their new mentality can get them.