The DU men’s basketball team returned to Denver late last night from France. While the players had the time of their lives on the DU France Foreign Tour 2022, it never would have happened without Head Coach Jeff Wulbrun taking charge and creating the event out of whole cloth. Surely, no single person felt more joy than Wulbrun as he watched his players enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime international trip to France.
During the vacuum created between the departure of Athletic Director Karlton Creech and the arrival of Josh Berlo, Wulbrun acted on his vision for his team along with Bob Willis, Deputy Athletic Director for Community & Diversity. With limited department financing, they engaged a historically weak donor network of basketball supporters for financial support. Prior to the arrival of Wulbrun at University and Evans, the men’s basketball team was ranked as one of the worst teams in DI college basketball. Interest had waned in the basketball program from both alumni and former players, attendance had collapsed from 5,500 fans per game to less than 1,000 fans over the past decade, and the administration had all but quit betting on men’s basketball. Frankly, who could blame the public for turning away from the program?
Imagine the hubris of Wulbrun? Thinking he could sponsor a European basketball trip for a program emerging from the ashes, showing its first signs of life only last season?
Upon his arrival a year ago, Wulbrun began reaching out to former players and building bridges. He met campus leaders, identified key donors & supporters and connected with the DU Alumni Advisory Board to garner support. Plus, Wulbrun cultivated a handful of loyal alumni who have stepped up to support his vision for DU men’s basketball. The trip to France was just one example that shows what can be done with a coach who has the skills to manage players on and off the court combined with the ability to cultivate and motivate an untapped donor base, awaken a reluctant fan base and assure a wary administration of what needs to be done to elevate the program..
Wulbrun is a self-proclaimed ‘builder’ who clearly embraces the struggle. Identifying and recruiting good, high-character players were his first priority. His second challenge has been changing DU’s internal culture. Not surprisingly, we expect Wulbrun will push University stakeholders out of their comfort zone, too. Frankly, the old way of doing business didn’t work for Denver men’s hoops and this may be DU’s last best chance to turn the corner, led by someone who has done it before.
Wulbrun and his staff believe in a culture that values players who care about education and basketball. Yes, we have heard that before – but his players swear by him. The team finished the spring quarter with a 3.45 GPA – unheard of at most ‘basketball schools’. Wulbrun is also a man of his word – he holds people to account with the same ferociousness that he puts behind his word and deeds. When Wulbrun was asked about how much time he spent with recruits touring the beautiful DU campus, he said, “Very little. Most of the (recruits) time here is spent talking about our culture.”
Who knows what this upcoming basketball season will bring? We are certain to see a tight-knit group playing for each other. Readers can tell from the France trip recaps published here that they are a bright group with a high upside. The recent loss of shooting guard Coban Porter to injury and the decommit of 6’11” Israel player Yarrin Hasson are setbacks but Denver should still be 7-8 players deep with some solid transfers and freshmen coming into the program.
Most fans will reflexively sit back and wait to see if this version of the basketball Pioneers is for real. Just know that Coach Wulbrun is not sitting back. The trip to France was proof for everyone to see.
Photo: Courtesy CBS News