The Bracey siblings have been prominent in Oak Park and River Forest High School basketball over the years.
The eldest, Bryan (Class of 1996), played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Malcolm X College and the University of Oregon before getting selected by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the 2001 National Basketball Association draft. He would later have a lengthy playing career overseas.
Bryan’s younger brother, Chris (Class of 1998), played at San Jose City College and West Texas A&M before embarking on an eight-year overseas playing career. He later served as an assistant coach at OPRF under Matt Maloney and is now an assistant for women’s basketball at the University of Missouri.
And then there’s their younger sister, Ashleen (Class of 2006), who was introduced as the new head coach for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s women’s basketball team March 28.
Ashleen Bracey was coaching alongside brother Chris at Missouri, but when the opportunity to become a head coach near Oak Park was offered, it was one she simply couldn’t pass up.
“When I started to envision about coaching in my hometown, I thought it would be during my first couple of years as an assistant,” Bracey said. “It’s truly a dream come true, and I’m really excited to be back in Chicago.”
While playing at OPRF under head coach Adrian Newell, Bracey was named All-West Suburban Conference three times. Then she had a stellar career at Illinois State University under head coach Robin Pingeton, helping lead the Redbirds to three Missouri Valley Conference championships, an NCAA tournament berth in 2008 and back-to-back Women’s National Invitational Tournament Final Four appearances in 2009 and 2010.
“We had fun and I did pretty decent at OPRF, but I really feel I came into my own in college,” Bracey said. “Not only as a basketball player, but as a person. Coach Pingeton is good at developing people who are going to be successful in life. I’ve been truly blessed.”
In her senior season at ISU, she was named captain and led the Redbirds in both scoring and rebounding while earning All-MVC First Team honors and MVC-All Defensive Team recognition.
“I had an amazing experience playing for coach Pingeton,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself walking away from the game. I wanted to be a part of creating the experience I got. I played professionally for a year [in Greece], then I got an opportunity to be a graduate assistant on coach Pingeton’s staff at Missouri. Ever since then, I haven’t looked back.”
After a year at Missouri, Bracey became an assistant coach at Ball State University the following season. Then, she served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Alabama-Birmingham for three seasons.
Bracey returned to Missouri for the 2016-17 season. In her six years as one of Pingeton’s assistants, the Tigers won at least 20 games three times. An ace recruiter, Bracey helped Missouri sign several strong classes, including the 2019 group that’s considered the best in school history as it was ranked 12th nationally.
“I got to coach SEC basketball, which in my opinion is the best in the country,” she said.
Bracey enjoyed working with Pingeton as well as her brother Chris and knew it would have taken a special opportunity for her to leave.
“I’ve known Robin since I was 16 years old. We have a great relationship and she has really been my mentor over the years,” she said. “She’s developed me into somebody that could be a head coach one day.
“It was not an easy situation to walk away from Chris. We’ve had quite a bit of success over the years and the only thing that could’ve gotten me away from that was to be back in my hometown as a head coach.”
Bracey will need to utilize her recruiting acumen as she attempts to reverse the fortunes of UIC’s program in preparation for a move from the Horizon League to the MVC. The Flames went 2-25 this season.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” said Bracey. “The thing I’ve learned in life is that what you put into things, you’ll get out. It starts with recruiting the right people, hiring the right staff and creating an environment where we can be successful. That doesn’t come easy this day and age, but we’re going to work our butts off to get it done.”
One thing Bracey has going for her is plenty of good talent in the Chicago area. Tapping into that will be key.
“I’m very knowledgeable about basketball in Chicago and the suburbs,” she said. “I know it’s good. The youth developmental programs are very strong and I have relationships with several of the coaches. If you can tap into that talent, it helps you be successful.”
Bracey says she’s thankful for her outpouring of support she’s received from the Oak Park and River Forest communities since being named the Flames’ head coach.
“Thanks for welcoming me back. I’m going to give the area something to be proud of at UIC,” she said. “I appreciate everyone’s support. It’s been overwhelming. My family has had a positive impact on our youth in Oak Park, and it’s something we’re passionate about.”
With her mother, younger sister, Bryan and several other relatives still living in the area, Bracey plans on visiting as much as possible, given it’s only a 15-minute drive from the UIC campus.
“My mom’s important to me, and I’ll be in Oak Park often,” she said.