December 2, 2022 

From Chicago to Edwardsville, Sam Quigley Smith and Bradley Bruno extend families’ Illinois basketball legacy

Smith and Bruno are aiming to rebuild the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville program

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – After the final buzzer had sounded and players had retreated to their locker rooms on Nov. 13, there was still activity on the court at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s (SIUE) First Community Arena. Throughout the game — a 71-62 SIUE loss to Eastern Michigan in the Cougars’ home opener — Chicago Sky guard Allie Quigley had blended into the crowd, but afterward she took the court to shoot with her sister Samantha Quigley Smith’s children.

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The Quigley family is one of the most renowned in Illinois basketball: Both of Sam and Allie’s parents were coaches in the state, as was their uncle, Brian Michalak. The Quigley sisters starred at DePaul University, and Allie won a WNBA championship with the Sky in 2021. And Sam’s entire coaching career has been in the state, including her current role as SIUE’s head coach.

One of the family’s few equals in Illinois is the Bruno family: Doug is a Hall-of-Famer who has over 750 wins as the head coach at DePaul, and his son Bradley was a practice player and then a staff member at DePaul and is now an assistant coach at SIUE. Together, Sam and Bradley are working to rebuild a SIUE program that had just nine wins in the two seasons before they arrived and hasn’t appeared in an NCAA Tournament or NIT since 2007.

Sam and Bradley have known each other for over a decade, since Bradley decided to leave Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota after his freshman year in 2008-09 and transfer to DePaul. He had made 14 starts and averaged 7.9 points per game, but he wanted to be closer to his family in Chicago.

At DePaul, everyone agrees that Bradley was a good practice player. “He was a lights-out shooter,” Sam told The Next, adding that Bradley would hit shots “in our faces.”

“Being on the practice squad is something that is really an experience because you get to be the best player, and every kid dreams of shooting 40 times a game,” Bradley told The Next. “So when you’re the practice player and you’re [imitating] the best player on … UConn or Notre Dame … that is very fun.”

Doug thinks that Bradley could even have walked on to the DePaul men’s team, recalling how Bradley scored over 40 points in Chicago summer basketball against Division I competition.

But being a practice player stoked Bradley’s interest in coaching, as he realized that it was a way to channel his competitiveness and love of the game without being in uniform. He also saw “a different side” of Doug, who had helped him learn the fundamentals of the game but never coached his youth teams.

“Seeing everything that goes into winning a basketball game and recruiting, that’s the experience that I learned from,” Bradley says. “… When we’re growing up, it’s like, Dad’s at work. And then to see what work really is for him, that’s what was really interesting and made me want to become a coach.”

Sam describes her relationship with Bradley at DePaul as “kind of like a brother.” In addition to competing against each other in practice, they worked summer camps together and were friends off the court. “We were all kind of like a family,” Sam says.

Sam played for the Blue Demons from 2006-11 and was a WBCA honorable mention All-America selection in 2011. She was a vocal and fiery point guard, and she ranks sixth in program history in career assists (484), 10th in made 3-pointers (187) and 27th in points (1,273). She led DePaul to the NCAA Tournament every year, including a Sweet Sixteen in 2011. Similarly, Allie was a two-time AP All-American honorable mention at shooting guard and also made a Sweet Sixteen before she graduated in 2008.

“Two of the most special players I’ve ever been blessed to coach are Allie and Sam Quigley,” Doug told The Next.

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After graduation, Sam briefly followed Allie into professional basketball, but she decided that playing overseas, far from family, wasn’t for her. She pivoted to coaching, which she had known she wanted to pursue since tearing her ACL as a sophomore at DePaul and joining the coaches’ meetings. Her uncle had just been hired as interim head coach at the University of St. Francis, an NAIA school in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois, and she became an assistant for one season before succeeding him as the head coach in 2012.

Five years later, Sam moved on to Division II Lewis University in Romeoville, where she coached for four seasons before heading south to SIUE. She led St. Francis to its first NAIA Final Four, and she won 70% of her games at Lewis and made three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Meanwhile, Bradley spent a few years bartending after college, but he knew he wanted to get back into basketball eventually. He and Doug had frank conversations about the time commitment and lifestyle required to succeed in coaching, and before Bradley joined Doug’s staff, Doug made sure Bradley understood that he would not get preferential treatment or be penciled in as Doug’s successor.

“I was very happy to hire Bradley,” Doug says, “but … I didn’t want Bradley thinking he was walking into any kind of legacy situation, because that’s not what’s going on here, and [I told him] that he was going to have to earn it from the ground up. And believe me, we made him earn it.”

Bradley spent five seasons as a video coordinator and director of basketball operations at DePaul, and per NCAA rules, he was generally not allowed to work with players on the court. He experienced one of the perennial growing pains for coaches who work with their parents, though: determining what to call their parent on the court.

“[I] can’t call him ‘Dad,’ right, and ‘Coach’ was just weird,” Bradley says. “So it’s like, ‘You’re just Doug.’”

When Bradley was at DePaul, Sam tried to recruit him to join her staff at Lewis, but he demurred to stay at a Division I program in Chicago. She tried again when she took the job at SIUE in spring 2021, wanting someone from DePaul to help anchor her program. She called Doug first, then reached out to Bradley.

“[Bradley] didn’t make it easy. I had about six phone calls with him,” Sam says.

“I made it easy!” Bradley counters from across the table in their office.

“I didn’t know if I could get him out of the city of Chicago,” Sam says, “but here we are.”

The opportunity at SIUE interested Bradley for two main reasons: He could move from his support staff role to an assistant coach, with on-court responsibilities, and he could help build a program. At some point, too, he wanted to create his own legacy, outside of what Doug has accomplished.

“Being able to coach and teach and learn and build a program is something that I wasn’t getting at DePaul because it was already established,” he says. “So it’s a very well-oiled machine up there. So now coming down here and getting this experience is special.”

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At SIUE, Bradley and assistant coach Jazmin Pitts focus on the post players while Sam and assistant coach Ariel Massengale work primarily with the guards. Bradley and Sam are the more offensive-minded coaches on the staff, which is not surprising when you consider that DePaul has ranked in at least the 92nd percentile in points per game in each of the past 13 seasons.

Bradley also has a knack for drawing up plays, and he has latitude to call plays in games. In SIUE’s season opener at Saint Louis, for example, he called a few plays late in quarters, including a baseline out-of-bounds play that got one of the Cougars’ best 3-point shooters, sophomore guard Molly Sheehan, open.

Bradley and Sam agree that their relationship as coaches is still, as Sam puts it, “very much like a brother-sister thing.” They can argue without taking it personally, and Bradley (and the rest of the staff) is empowered to question Sam and suggest alternatives. At one point in his conversation with The Next, Doug referred to Sam and Bradley as “the Mutt and Jeff act,” after the long-running comic strip about two friends of different heights.

“They’re loyal to one another. They both have the same aspirations for their program,” Doug says.

The goal, Sam says, is to make SIUE a program that “people fear playing,” with a style of play that resembles DePaul’s famously high-octane offense. The Cougars want to press defensively and push the pace in transition, and they want their offense to one day average 80 to 90 points per game. Sam and Bradley are both ambitious and bullish about their chances, but they have both had to accept that teaching their style, recruiting to it, and building the program will take time.

In Sam and Bradley’s first season in 2021-22, the Cougars finished with a 13-18 record, and they are 0-6 in Year 2 amid a brutal nonconference schedule. SIUE has played Purdue, Memphis, Xavier and Iowa State in its past four games, and Louisville is next on Dec. 6. The Cougars will also end their non-conference schedule at Washington on Dec. 20.

“What we were trying to do was just prepare our team for the OVC,” Sam says of the schedule. “… We thought, if there’s a time to do it, it’s year two. Young players that are coming in, that are going to be in our program for the next four to five years, they gotta learn. They gotta know what that feels like to be at Purdue in front of 8,000 [fans], at Louisville in front of 12,000. … Because [when you] get to an OVC Tournament game, you win your OVC Tournament, you go to your first NCAA Tournament game, you gotta be prepared. You can’t be a deer in headlights.”

Sam jokes that she is waiting for the moment when her second season is better than her first, which is something several people have told her to expect. Against Saint Louis on Nov. 11, the Cougars fell into an early hole and never fully recovered. At one point, Sam rested a hand on her chin in frustration, biting her lip as she tried to right the ship. She turned to wholesale substitutions: “Five. Five people,” Sam said to her bench in the first quarter with the Cougars down 27-9.

Two days later, she continued the tactic, saying postgame that the substitutions gave her team more energy. “We’d probably like to get to a place of getting the right combinations in together,” she said. “But at this point, it’s about competing, and if five in, five out helps you compete, then we’re gonna go five in, five out.”

Win or lose, Sam is seemingly always thinking about the game and wanting to do more. At 11 p.m. the night before the Eastern Michigan game, she rewatched film on the Eagles. “What are you doing right now to get better?” she asks herself — a lesson she learned from Doug and now tries to impart to her players.

That is just one element of the culture that the SIUE staff is trying to establish, but that culture has an unmistakable DePaul influence throughout. Bradley points out that, just as Sam watches film at 11 p.m., “all [Doug] does” is watch film, including film from each day’s practice. Sam urges her players, like she learned at DePaul, to excel and take pride in every area of their lives, from being focused and prepared in class to debriefing a game with their teammates at home instead of going straight to Netflix or social media.

“I say this to our team all the time, so they’re probably like, ‘Broken record,’ but that’s really, really important,” Sam says. “You’re not going to get better on your phone. We’re not going to get better on your phone.”

There have been signs of progress, from a second-half comeback against Eastern Michigan that fell just short, to a new approach from freshman forward Destine Duckworth, to a halftime lead against Xavier on Nov. 27. Sam says that Duckworth became “a completely different player” in the span of three weeks, from the team’s closed scrimmage to the Eastern Michigan game, in which she had eight points in 13 minutes off the bench. (Two weeks later, Duckworth had a career-high nine points and four rebounds against Xavier.)

“She’s starting to get it. She’s in [our office]. She’s diagramming plays on a sheet of paper, trying to figure out where she needs to be, what she needs to be doing,” Sam said after the Eastern Michigan game. “… Getting them to come to that realization is like the best feeling in coaching, when someone realizes, ‘I need to be better.’”

Against Xavier, Sam shook up her starting lineup, and the Cougars responded. They led by as many as 11 in the first half, and Sam was particularly pleased that they passed more crisply, limited turnovers, and rebounded better. “I’m just really proud of our group,” she said postgame. “… While it looks like [a record of] 0-5, to us, this feels different. This is a different basketball team that’s showing up every day. These are different women. And that’s our primary goal.”

Eventually, Sam and Bradley believe, SIUE could become a program like Belmont, which has made four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons under former DePaul assistant coach Bart Brooks. “This place has so much room for growth,” Sam says. “… It really is a special place. It’s a diamond in the rough. And so … [we’re] trying to instill some really great things in this athletic department, starting with our women’s basketball program.”

With all they’ve accomplished individually and their families’ history of success in Illinois, it’s fitting that Sam and Bradley are teaming up to rebuild an in-state program. The process hasn’t been easy or quick. But every time Sam and Bradley formulate a game plan or have a breakthrough with a player, they are taking another step toward polishing that diamond.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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