However, as a longtime member of Jim Calhoun's staff at Connecticut, Leitao is well versed in the history and culture of the Big East. And despite the conference sporting a different look these days, Leitao is excited to be finally coaching in the Big East again.
“Looking from afar, we have new teams since the last time I was there,” said Leitao about what has caught his eye about the Big East since he was an assistant coach at Connecticut. “I think the brand of basketball is pretty much the same; it's physical, it's skilled. The Big East has always been about players and coaches, and I don't think that's changed a lot since the last time I was around.”
As one of Calhoun's most trusted aides, Leitao has been in communication with his mentor, a guy who just happens to be one of the game's most legendary coaches. Leitao said he will pick Calhoun's brain as he enters the coaching box again.
“We've talked a few times over the course of the summer,” Leitao said. “We laughed and joked about being back in the Big East. So, there's a little bit of deja vu to it. I've yet to get deep into it with him in terms of X's and O's. But we've made a promise to each other that we will get together and do some specific basketball things relative to what we think is important to our success.”
Leitao has been tapped once again to transform the struggling DePaul program, just as he did some 13 years ago. He knows he has a tough task, but he is ready to roll up his sleeves and try to turn around the fortunes of a program that has had endured eight straight losing seasons.
“It’s my hope,” Leitao said about making strides in year one of his return to DePaul “Do we want to be better? Absolutely. Are we going to be better? I’m pretty sure we will be. How much better? It’s (about) the commitment they make to each other (and) how much they believe and trust in one other. And how committed they become day-to-day on the process of being better (is crucial).”
At the crux of the situation for the Blue Demons is their ability to defend. The Demons have been brutal on the defensive side of the ball in years past under Leitao's predecessors Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell. Correcting things on the defensive side of the ball was one of the reasons Leitao was hired. Just take a gander at these numbers from last season.
The Demons ranked last in the Big East in scoring defense (73.6 points per game), scoring margin (-4.2) field-goal percentage defense (.460 percent shooting allowed), rebounding offense (30.3 rebounds per game), rebounding margin (-5.5) and eighth in rebounding defense (35.8 rebounds allowed per game).
Leitao knows that the commitment to defense is the starting point in getting DePaul turned around, and it's the first thing he stressed when he was introduced to the team.
“The first time I put a whistle around my neck in April, those were the first words (defense) out of my mouth,” Leitao said on why defense is so important in turning around DePaul. “It’s something we talked about every time we’ve gotten together. We have to create that mindset. I understand it’s not going to (happen) overnight. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to be filled with some times where I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and there’s going to be times where it’s going to look like we haven’t made any progress.
“At the same point in time,” Leitao added. “I think if you talk to anybody around our program they’ll mention that word (progress) and it’s something that we deem critically important to our success.”
Leitao knows his task is tough. With the Big East coaches picking the Demons to finish eighth in the Big East, he knows perception is a big issue and that the rebuild won't be overnight. Still, there is an itch that Leitao just needed to scratch in regards to being a head coach again.
Everything about his return to DePaul has been second nature to Leitao. Although, Leitao did stress at Big East Media Day that he goes about things differently these days.
“Adjustment (is an) evolutionary process that everybody goes through in their life.” Leitao said about his adjustment to coaching DePaul again. “I look at the game differently. I look at young people a lot differently. I look at myself in the mirror a little bit differently. So, when you put all those things together, it creates a different mindset on how I go about the process of teaching the game. (I'm) teaching the guys about life as it relates to basketball and just preparation. All those things have changed about me.”
Nevertheless, Leitao finds comfort in coaching.
“When you step away from it for a little while, and then being back as an assistant, it allowed me to get an overview of how I would do some things once I got back in the chair.” Leitao said. “Now that I am back, it's exciting. I don't think that I have to go through the process of understanding what is and what isn't. I feel more comfortable. One, because I have done it before. (And) two, I've done it at DePaul before. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. It creates a high level of comfort and confidence that if we do things right, success will happen.”