“I learned how difficult this league is,” Leitao said on Tuesday at Big East Media Day. “It's different teams, different locations, but it's the same intensity of the Big East which I had known for so many years.”
“Because of that, the biggest learning curve I had was that you really have to be good in areas of recruiting, and you got to coach them and motivate them,” Leitao added. “That was enough of a learning experience for me to understand what I need to do to keep building and moving forward.”
DePaul heads into the 2016-17 season with two known quantities in senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. and sophomore forward Eli Cain.
Garrett (12.6 points and 3.5 assists per game) was named to the pre-season all-Big East second team on Tuesday.
Cain, meanwhile, is coming off a season where he was named to the All-Big East Freshmen team after averaging 10.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
But after them, the rest of the roster comes with a lot of question marks—especially for a team losing the services of Myke Henry, Tommy Hamilton, Rashaun Stimage and Aaron Simpson (all of whom played a lot of minutes in Leitao's rotation).
Hence, there is a good reason why the Demons were picked to finish last by Big East coaches. This after they finished in ninth place last season.
However, Leitao feels that with the new pieces he is bringing in, he can now begin to mold the team in his own image. He is excited to turn over a new leaf.
Leitao said this team is approaching the season with a whole new attitude.
“The air in the gym is completely different,” said Leitao. “Everybody right now is 100 percent on the same page. They all want the same thing as I want. That allows us to move in a positive direction.”
While most Demon fans like the guards and wings that Leitao has stockpiled, many are worried about how the play of the frontcourt will shake out in light of Henry, Hamilton and Stimage departing the program.
Leitao said it will have to be a committee approach, but he likes the versatility of some his newcomers in junior college transfer Tre'Darius McCallum and freshman center Levi Cook.
“Yeah, you have to be naturally worried,” Leitao said when asked about losing key pieces to the frontcourt. “We'll play a little bit undersized but the good thing about it is that we'll be able to diversify. We'll be quicker and faster.”
Leitao said the Big East, and basketball in general, is moving away from traditional roles and catering to what guards and wings can do in spreading the floor.
He is not as alarmed as others.
“As long as we get the guys to understand that we got to rebound every single time down the floor collectively because we are not going to have a guy average 12 rebounds a game,” Leitao added. “Hopefully we'll make up for it (as a unit).”
When asked specifically who might stand out in the frontcourt among the newcomers, Leitao pointed to the potential of Cook.
“A guy like Levi— who has been rehabbing most of the summer and still has to get in shape and lose a little bit more weight— he has a natural feel in the post and how to score,” Leitao said. “That's something everybody has and if we can keep him out of foul trouble, play him consistent minutes, and (have him) understand what we're doing, then it's my hope that what I am seeing right now, that he'll be able to do this with regularity.”
Leitao certainly has confidence in his team and whether that translates to more wins on the court this season remains to be seen.
Either way this is a roster almost entirely made up of players Leitao recruited and he is prepared to go to battle and show major progress in year two of his second go-round at DePaul.