Dee Bekelja provides a spark as sixth starter for DePaul women’s basketball


Maddy Maes

Dee Bekelja guarding an Xavier player on Dec. 5.

When asked about Dee Bekelja, the first things that her long-time teammates – senior guards Lexi Held and Sonya Morris – brought up was the joy Bekelja brings to the team and the energy she has on the court.

On the court or not, Bekelja always works hard to light up her team. Whether it’s by doing something goofy to make her teammates laugh or throwing herself down on the court to make a play, she gives a spark to the DePaul women’s basketball team.

Bekelja joined the team as a freshman on a competitive team where playing time was tight and starting spots were limited. As a result, Bekelja learned to stay patient and trust in the coaching staff, her teammates and herself.

Now, in her fifth year with the team, Bekelja has become one of the strongest players off the bench for the Blue Demons while serving as a spark for the team on and off the court.

For the guard from Solon, Ohio, basketball has always been a central part of her world. Bekelja’s father, Kevin, played basketball, and he shared his love for the sport with Bekelja, her older sister and two younger brothers.

“It’s been a blast seeing Dee progress through the years,” Kevin said. “I’ve been watching her play competitive basketball since she was in 2nd grade. I am very grateful that I’ve been able to watch her take each step throughout her career.”

Her love for the sport was what drew Bekelja to play at DePaul. She knew the success DePaul had achieved under head coach Doug Bruno and the rest of the coaching staff, and wanted to be a part of it.

In her first three years on the team, the Blue Demons won three-straight Big East Championships, and made the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019.

However, her DePaul basketball journey has not been smooth. And while she powered forward, her confidence had cracked.

“You come from high school and you’re not playing as much and you feel like you’re doing everything wrong, so those were definitely really hard years,” Bekelja said. “It was a struggle but I’m so glad I stuck with it, and I feel like I’m definitely reaping the benefits now that I’m an upperclassman.”

Bekelja found her stride as an upperclassman. In her junior year, she played in all 33 games and started in eight of them, while also playing a big scoring role for the Blue Demons off the bench.

As a senior last season, she started in all 24 games, where she averaged 12.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. She had a season-high 24 points against Texas A&M University in the team’s season opener on Nov. 28.

“She’s kind of an all-around player and sometimes it goes unnoticed because maybe she’s not making all these flashy plays, but when she’s on the court, she’s very impactful,” Held said. “She definitely does a lot for her team that maybe doesn’t show up on the stat sheet or maybe isn’t going to make the top ten plays of the nation, but when she’s playing, she’s doing nothing but good for our team.”

This season, the Blue Demons have seen consistent success from the team, which has increased the competition for playing time and a position in the starting five.

As a result, Bekelja has transitioned back into playing a key role for the team off the bench.

“For a fifth year to come back, and she didn’t have to come back but she chose to come back, and for her to come back and then come off the bench, I truly believe she’s the sixth player of the year in the league,” Bruno said. “And to come off the bench and give us the energy, vibrancy, the shot in the arm off the bench that she gives us, she’s really been one of our most valuable players.”

While she has not started this season, Bekelja has played in 16 of the 18 games for the Blue Demons this season while averaging 6.4 points.

“Dee, she does a great job of just focusing on the things that she needs to focus on, and it’s great having her on the court, somebody with the same amount of experience, more experience,” Morris said. “She just wants to win too; she’s got a passion for the game and love for the game and that takes you a long way.”

Bekelja is still deciding what her next steps in life are when her time at DePaul comes to an end. She is currently studying to get her master’s in psychology and thinks she may want to continue school to earn a PhD.

Now, Bekelja has another obstacle to face – she is out of the lineup and with a boot on her ankle and is unsure when she will return.

“I have two months left of playing basketball in my whole life, I’m just trying to stay in the moment and just take everything day-by-day and not let things bother me,” Bekelja said. “I can’t do anything about the health issue, it’s issues that I’ve had and it’s not going to do me any good to worry about as long as I’m with my team and still in this atmosphere.”