Man on a Mission – Head Coach Jeff Wulbrun

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

6 thoughts on “Man on a Mission – Head Coach Jeff Wulbrun”

  1. I have been very impressed by Coach Wulbrun. He’s doing all the right things to build a basketball program and culture we can all be proud of. I think his basketball philosophies — and life philosophies — are right on.

    The funding of our men’s basketball program is near the bottom of the Summit League. That’s shameful and not compatible with aspirations of building a strong program — one that would garner the attention of the West Coast Conference (the ideal conference for our school, athletically and academically).

    Here’s hoping the chancellor and new athletic director (along with all program stakeholders) will step up and fully commit to funding the program properly.

  2. I never have met Jeff, but I come from Bloomington, Illinois and knew of Jeff at the Illinois State University program and at Central Catholic High School. I was Sports Editor at the Clarion in the late ’70s when the program was also struggling & ultimately became DII a couple years later. Basketball does have a low budget history at DU.

    Denver needs to get out of the Summit League and start playing in Magness Arena at least a couple times during the season. It’s a big challenge but Jeff is absolutely the right guy. I plan to attend some games during the upcoming season!

  3. Welbrun is doing all he can to create a winning program in an era when funding at this level is static and his players can leave easily via the portal.

    I don’t know where some of you are getting that Denver’s hoops budget is low for the Summit League…Denver had the highest overall men’s hoops budget in the Summit last I heard — at about $2.5 million in 2020, ranking #174 out of 347 D-I teams nationally. Avg Summit budget in 2020 in the Summit was about $1.7 million, 24th out of 32 D-I conferences.

    Nationally speaking, DU’s budget is in the middle of the mid-majors, but nowhere near the $10.5 (Gonzaga) -$22 million (Duke)+ spent in 2020 at the top 35 largest budget programs.

    For a list see here:
    https://www.three-man-weave.com/3mw/college-basketball-budgets-2020

    That said, I have heard that DU’s athletic budgets have been reduced a bit especially for recruiting, which is likely more Covid-revenue loss related cost-containment across the athletic department. Couple that with rapidly rising inflation (which is important for a team that has to fly to its road games), and it’s certainly cause for concern, especially if men’s hoops is not getting the investment it needs to maintain, let alone upgrade the product.

    I hope DU can keep the promises that were likely made to Welbrun around future facility upgrades and to generate more support and investment for basketball.

    Fans need to do their part and support the program as it rebuilds in a harsh environment…

    1. I don’t have recent figures but Billups had nearly half the budget of Joe Scott. Then, there were COVID cuts. I am guessing DU’s current hoops budget is half of the past hight water mark you reference in the most expensive Summit League market. DU are likely in the lowest quarter of the Summit League and have fewer staff/support than the top half of teams.

      1. If this recent hoops budgetary atrophy is true, then it’s time for the administration to rectify it. Here’s the game plan:

        1) Jeremy Haefner, Dan Ritchie, and trustees KC Gallagher and John Miller all need to get in the same room with Berlo and Welbrun at the same time, as there needs to be a shared vision about where this hoops program is headed.

        2) These also can’t leave the room without a financial game plan in place for finding the money they need to compete.

        3) Funding Sources:
        – Existing Ritchie, Coombe, Chopp and Haefner-era donors
        – New Donors – Find alumni, ex-NBA and college players and hoops-loving community leaders looking to make a splash with D-I hoops in their backyard
        – Corporate sponsors: Need to get aggressive here to bring new corporate money to the table, too.

        If DU wants to be a Summit Level player, they need $3-5 million per year, with probably half of that coming from new-found funding

        If DU has national level dreams, a $5-10 million budget and new facilities money are a must have. Someone has the money for this, but it needs to prodded, cajoled, and packaged…

  4. Dunker here. Basketball matters, a lot. We are a nationally well known private university which excels in sports, except basketball. Is DU men’s basketball the toughest in college basketball. Maybe. At least it’s close. Finally we have a coach with smarts, charismatic personality, experience, and over the top energy. Jeff Wilbrun is our hope. He needs financial backing from everyone, but especially the higher-ups. We need serious regional and national exposure to let people know we are doing everything possible to make us relevant. Administration, Board of Trustees, AD; get on board so others know. Give Jeff security so DU basketball will be his dream job, and his final job.

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