Homecoming for Gene Cross

Having spent three years coaching at DePaul and six years at UIC, Thursday night's matchup between the Blue Demons and Notre Dame will signify a homecoming for Fighting Irish assistant coach Gene Cross. In this story, we hear from the former DePaul assistant on his return to Chicago…

For three years under former DePaul Blue Demons men's basketball coach Dave Leitao, Gene Cross sat on the home team's bench at Allstate Arena. For the first time on Thursday night, Cross will learn what it feels like to be on the visitor's bench.

It has to feel awkward for Cross to return to DePaul as the opponent. "It will be a bit odd to start off with, just walking out there and walking to the opposite bench," expressed Cross. "It's just part of the business, once the ball gets tossed up, I'll be fine."

Cross is in his first year as an assistant in South Bend, after leaving Virginia following one year in Charlottesville under Leitao. Gene Cross had a hand in recruiting the majority of this Blue Demons team. While he doesn't have regular contact with the DePaul players due to tampering concerns, he does follow the team closely. Gene did recently express his sympathies to DePaul senior Lorenzo Thompson on the loss of his father. "I still follow them all the time," Cross said. "I still follow Virginia. I still follow UIC. Once you leave a place, you never really leave there. It always has a special place somewhere, because you've been at that particular place. I know and care about all these kids. You follow them and want them to be successful, except for two times a year."

Having recruited most of the DePaul team, Cross is more than qualified to prepare a scouting report on the Blue Demons. "I think that they're a scary team because I know how talented they are," Cross observed. "I know that they're going to play hard. I know what their physical attributes are. You just never know sometimes with a team how they're going to respond to coming off of a loss at Syracuse. I know that they play well at home, they're 9-2 at home. They worry me. I know that Draelon (Burns) has been playing really well over the last few games. Wilson (Chandler) is Wilson. He's so freakishly athletic. He's such a good basketball player, he could go off for 25 and 12. Sammy (Mejia) is capable of putting up 40 points as he did this year. Then you got guys that come off the bench – Marcus (Heard) is playing pretty well this year. Karron (Clarke) is liable to come off and have a good game. You got to hope that they have a bad game."

The Irish have recently fallen from the ranks of the Associate Press Top 25 and are coming off of a 69-63 loss to South Florida in Tampa. Rob Kurz's play was limited in that game due to an injury to his right ankle. The junior forward is Notre Dame's second leading scorer. "We're just hoping to get Rob back by Thursday," Cross said. "When you think about it when you take double-digit points and eight or nine rebounds out of the lineup, it's hard. He's been a rock, he's a junior, he's experienced, he's been around the block. We're hoping to get him back sooner rather than later."

After spending four years learning at the feet of Leitao, Cross left Virginia for Notre Dame this summer for a different opportunity. "I think that as a coach in this business, you want to make sure that you get every opportunity to make yourself better," remarked Cross. "I love Dave Leitao, he's like a brother to me. I still talk to him. We were just texting back and forth about the Super Bowl and about our teams. I learned a lot from him, but I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get to another premier league, going from the ACC to the Big East. It was an opportunity to work for a really good basketball coach in Coach (Mike) Brey. It was also a chance for me to get back closer to home. Chicago is where I've spent the majority of my life. I can get to my Mom's house in an hour and a half. I think it was about being able to compete on another stage more or less."

Whether he's been wearing DePaul blue, the orange of the Virginia Cavaliers, or Irish green, Cross can be seen recruiting in high schools gyms in the Chicago area. Gene Cross has been successful recruiting area players to DePaul and Virginia and will no doubt be successful at Notre Dame as well. "The lifeblood of your program is recruiting," said Cross. "We're all done for 2007. I've been really focusing in on a few players, especially in the Chicagoland area, that might be able to come in and help us right away at Notre Dame. It's hard because there are so many people that want to come into Chicago to recruit. Of course, you have to go out there and sell your program and what the Big East has to offer."

When Cross steps onto the court at Allstate Arena on Thursday night, many memories will no doubt come back to him. From there he'll add on a new set of memories of the rivalry that DePaul and Notre Dame share.

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