Big East previews: Second time around a charm for Leitao at DePaul?
NEW YORK — Dave Leitao knows what a lot of cynical DePaul fans are muttering under their breath: Haven’t we tried this before?
The answer is, "Yes." And also, "No."’
Yes, this is Leitao’s second stint at trying to revive DePaul basketball. He was successful in his first stop in Chicago from 2002-2005, compiling a 58-34 record that included two NIT and one NCAA Tournament appearance. But that was when the Blue Demons were members of Conference USA.
Their time in the Big East has been about as enjoyable as sitting in Soldier Field in late December the last four years when the Bears didn’t make the playoffs. Forget Windy City. DePaul basketball has been Misery City. Over the past seven seasons, DePaul has gone 16-110 in Big East play. It’s enough to make Mike Ditka cry.
But not Leitao.
"I learned a lot my first time in Chicago,” Leitao told FOXSports.com. "It’s a blue-collar town with a passionate fan base that will support you, if you do it right and work at it. It’s what I learned from Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. It’s like that movie, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We’re building it here.”
Literally. DePaul will move into the state-of-the-art McCormick Place arena in mid-2017. The city of Chicago and DePaul have committed money and manpower to restoring the Blue Demons to prominence. Leitao knows there are no short cuts. Calhoun’s first teams at UConn were tenacious on defense while sporadic on offense. Once better talent arrived, the Huskies ran like they were crossing the finish line in the Iditarod.
DePaul was last in the Big East in defense last season, a point he made his first day on the job. Returning players such as Billy Garrett Jr. and Myke Henry will have to embrace a commitment to the other end of the court. Leitao also is counting on 6-foot-6 freshman guard Eli Cain for an immediate boost.
The Blue Demons were picked to finish eighth in the coach’s preseason poll. Leitao doesn’t bat an eye.
"I’m not focused on where we are at the beginning of the season,” he said. "I want to see how we’re playing at the end of the season. If we’re playing with passion and intensity, we’re heading in the right direction. We want to bring back the passion and the only way to do that is with passionate players. Everything is in place here to have a program that wins on a consistent basis. That’s DePaul basketball.”
Leitao should know.