To accomplish that turnaround, Leitao and his staff have looked at the hand that they’ve been dealt and determined how they can change things.
“Anytime you take over a program, there’s two things that happened, either you take over for somebody that’s been successful and moves up to take a better position, or you haven’t been winning and the university decides to make a change,” said Leitao. “Because the latter happened, you have to figure out why and if the guys in the gym were a significant part of that, you ask how can you make that change. How can you change the mindset, or structure, or ultimately a culture that they can invest themselves back into winning.”
Leitao is no stranger to turning around a basketball program. The first time that he was at DePaul, he took over a Blue Demons team that was 9-19 and 2-14 in Conference USA and improved that team by seven wins to 16-13 with a postseason bid to the NIT. A year later and the Blue Demons were in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament with a record of 22-10.
At Virginia, Leitao inherited a team that was 14-15 and 4-12 in the ACC. Two years later and that team finished in a tie for first in the ACC, was 21-11 and in the 2nd round of the NCAA’s.
“There’s a number of things that go into that,” Leitao said of a turnaround. “It’s not an easy process. It’s not an overnight process. It has peaks and valleys to it. We’ve got to be patient more than anything with them, but we’ve got to be demanding of what we know will work for them. And require it out of each and every one of them each day.”
That’s what Leitao has done since arriving at DePaul, requiring incremental improvement out of his team on a daily basis.
“That’s kind of how I’ve looked at it since taking over,” Dave said. “There’s some real good young men. There’s no real knuckleheads or things of that nature. You don’t have to flush guys out of the program, but yet that have to be taught your way and not somebody else’s way, but your way on what it takes to win.”
It’s that cultural shift that Leitao has had to instill in his players.
“Sometimes when people believe that you have to change the culture, it’s because the previous one was bad,” said Leitao. “I’m not saying anything like that. I think that every person has their own style. You bring in what you’ve deemed important in your coaching career or your playing career as what you think is good for winning, those guys who are now on your team have to buy into it.”
The Blue Demons will have the opportunity to show what they’ve learned on Saturday afternoon in Lincoln Park as the take on Division II Caldwell in an exhibition game at McGrath-Phillips Arena.