July 24, 2011

Claws job next best move for Leitao

New Red Claws Coach Dave Leitao brings a focus on teaching – and balance – to the court.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Dave Leitao is at peace with his life. Finally.

click image to enlarge

Dave Leitao brings 25 years of coaching to his post with the Red Claws, whose priority is to help young players develop.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

It took a couple years away from the sport that is his passion and his vocation -- basketball -- but he got his life in balance.

And now he is ready to resume a coaching career that has spanned 25 years at the NCAA Division I level, nine as a head coach, 16 as an assistant under legendary Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun.

Leitao, 51, was introduced on Thursday as the new coach of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League. It will be his first professional position, but he's not concerned. Neither is Jon Jennings, the president and general manager of the Red Claws, who hired Leitao.

"This, to me, is the shining example of what every player can become," said Jennings, nodding to Leitao across the table at the Red Claws office. "He's a hell of a coach, a dedicated family man and a guy who has all of his priorities in the right place."

And it took a two-year layoff to do that.

Basketball has been in Leitao's blood since he began dribbling on the playgrounds of New Bedford, Mass. But he never set out to be a coach.

After graduating from Northeastern, where he was a 6-foot-7 forward for Calhoun, he travelled to California to live with his mother. One day he got a call from Calhoun asking if he wanted to join his staff at Northeastern.

"It took me all of 30 seconds to decide," said Leitao, who averaged 6 points and 5.4 rebounds for Calhoun. "I called him back, said I'd love to.

"May 15, 1984. That was the day I went to Northeastern. I started on June 15, 1984."

What followed was a remarkable -- and unconventional -- coaching journey. He followed Calhoun to Connecticut, but returned to Northeastern in 1994 as head coach. He stayed only two seasons, then returned to Connecticut to be an assistant.

He considers that his best career move. He was given more responsibilities and grew, not only as a coach but as a person. And he continued to learn from Calhoun.

"He was my foundation about how coaching and this business is supposed to be," said Leitao. "You do things in a certain way and it leads you in a certain direction, mostly positive."

Eventually he moved on to DePaul as a head coach, then to Virginia, where he became the school's first black head coach in any sport.

His Cavaliers won the ACC regular-season title in 2006-07, and he was named ACC Coach of the Year.

Two years later, he was asked to leave following a 10-18 season -- only his second losing season.

"Not my choice," said Leitao, matter-of-factly. "But if that had not happened, I would not be sitting here now, and not with the inner peace that I have."

He received a $2.1 million buyout, then proceeded to get his family life back in order.

"He really missed a lot of things over the years," said his wife, Joyce, who met Leitao in college.

While Leitao stayed connected to the game, he reconnected with everything else in his life.

"It was the best two years of my life, and I can say that unequivocally," said Leitao. "When I left (Virginia) I did not realize where I was at in other important areas of my life. This time off game me time, while I was still staying busy, to address some of the things that are clearly important to one's life and provide balance so that, if you go get the chance to get back in (to coaching), you do it with a much better perspective.

(Continued on page 2)

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