When DePaul University was searching for a coach with the pedigree and experience for success in the BIG EAST Conference, a familiar face rose to the top of the search list in Dave Leitao. The New Bedford, Mass., native returned to DePaul in 2015 after leading the Blue Demons to three postseason appearances in his first stint of three seasons from 2002-05 in Lincoln Park.
Leitao was named the 14th head coach in program history on March 29, 2015 and is back at DePaul to take care of what he describes as ‘unfinished business.’
In the first year of his second turn leading the Blue Demons, Leitao and his staff set the program up for long-term success. The Blue Demons recorded a pair of wins over ranked opponents including DePaul's highest-ranked win since Dec. 2006 with a victory over No. 11 Providence in February. The 21-point win over No. 20 George Washington in December was the largest margin of victory in program history by an unranked DePaul team over a ranked opponent. Off the court, the team placed an impressive 11 players on the BIG EAST All-Academic Team and was honored with the NABC's Team Academic Excellence Award. Individually, Eli Cain was named to the BIG EAST’s All-Freshman Team.
Year two of round two at DePaul saw the program continue to build the foundation on and off the court. The Blue Demons won their second straight NABC Team Academic Excellence Award while the 2017 recruiting class provided depth and talent at every position on the floor. DePaul concluded its run in Rosemont at Allstate Arena in 2016-17 with Leitao winning nearly 65 percent of his games in the facility over his five career seasons with the Blue Demons.
The 2017-18 campaign saw DePaul move into Wintrust Arena signifying the next chapter in the program's storied history. In the next step of building the program, the Blue Demons posted 11 victories and were in position in six other games to post additional wins. DePaul went 1-6 in games decided by five points or less that included two closely contested games against eventual BIG EAST champion Xavier. The Blue Demons also posted impressive wins on the road at Providence and St. John's. DePaul went into Carnesecca Arena and dominated from start to finish in a 91-74 win over the Red Storm in January before an 80-63 victory at the Dunkin' Donuts Center over the Friars in February. The 17-point margin of victory over Providence was the highest by a visiting team since the 2009-10 season.
Upward momentum continued as the Blue Demons produced 19 victories in 2018-19. The 19 wins and appearance in the College Basketball Invitational marked the most wins and first postseason appearance for the Blue Demons since the 2006-07 season. The team also set records with 2,821 points and 36 games while the 241 three-pointers marked the second-highest total in school history.
In addition to the team success, BIG EAST individual honors were awarded to Paul Reed as the league’s Most Improved Player and Max Strus as a second team All-BIG EAST honoree. Strus was the first player in DePaul history to be named BIG EAST Player of the Week three times and he was selected to the DI-AAA ADA Scholar-Athlete team, first team Google Cloud CoSIDA Academic-District and second team All-District 5 by the NABC.
The 79-71 win at No. 24/23 St. John’s was the first win over a ranked opponent since a 77-70 victory against No. 11/11 Providence in February 2016 at Allstate Arena. It was also the first road win over a ranked opponent since a 64-60 win at No. 24/24 Seton Hall in January 2015.
DePaul opened the 2018-19 campaign with an 8-0 record for the first time since 1999-00 and finished the season with 16 home victories for just the fifth time in program history with 16 or more home wins in a season.
The 2019-20 season went one better with a 9-0 start before the Blue Demons won 12 of 13 non-conference games for the best non-conference record since joining the Great Midwest Conference in 1991. Overall, the Blue Demons recorded six wins against teams ranked as a Quad 1 opponent in the NET during the season. Those six victories put DePaul on a list of just 23 programs in the nation to record at least six Q1 wins during the 2019-20 season. The Blue Demons were one of six BIG EAST programs on the 23-team list while the league was the top-ranked conference in the country.
Prior to the BIG EAST Tournament, Reed was named second team All-BIG EAST and Romeo Weems was selected to the league’s All-Freshman Team. The Blue Demons closed the season with a 71-67 win over Xavier in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament before the remainder of the college basketball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his first stint with the Blue Demons from 2002-05 he turned a nine-win team into a 16-win squad that laid the foundation for success over his initial stint at DePaul. Inheriting a team that failed to qualify for its own league tournament the season prior to his arrival, Leitao led DePaul to the program’s first postseason bid in three years (NIT) and 16 wins, a seven-win improvement.
Eight of the 16 victories in his first year came in Conference USA play, which was the third best C-USA victory total in the program’s history. DePaul also beat ninth-ranked Louisville in an overtime thriller at the Allstate Arena in March. The 16 are the second-highest total for a DePaul coach in his first season with the Blue Demons that trails only Ray and Joey Meyer who each won 19 in their rookie seasons.
DePaul also excelled off the court as well during Leitao’s first season in 2002-03. Three Blue Demons were named to the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, the most by a DePaul men’s team since the 1993-94 academic year.
The 2003-04 campaign turned into one of the most magical in the storied history of the program. Consider some of the highlights. DePaul returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years and earned the program’s highest seed since 1992. The Blue Demons won their first NCAA Tournament game since 1989 and were eliminated by the eventual national champion in the second round. The Blue Demons were one of the nation’s hottest teams down the stretch, winning 15 of their last 18 contests to finish the season with 22 wins, the most victories by a DePaul team since 1987-88 and the most over the last 10 years since.
After starting league play 0-2, the Blue Demons won 12 of their last 14 regular season games and claimed a share of the C-USA championship. It was just the second conference title in DePaul history.
Despite a five-way tie for the league title, DePaul earned the top-seed at the C-USA Tournament and reached the championship game of the league’s tournament for the second time in the program’s history. The Blue Demons also set school records for conference wins in a season (12) and conference road wins (6).
C-USA honored Blue Demon players with the league’s Player of the Week honor four times during the season and DePaul had two players (Delonte Holland and Andre Brown) earn All-Conference USA honors and one (Sammy Mejia) gain mention on the league’s All-Freshman team.
The success wasn’t limited to the playing floor. It also came in the classroom as the Blue Demons boasted their first CoSIDA/Academic All-District player (Drake Diener) since 1992 and placed two players on the C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll. Diener was also the league’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Success was no stranger in year three of the Leitao era at DePaul as the Blue Demons posted their second consecutive 20-win season and a third-consecutive postseason berth. Both accomplishments occurred for the first time since the early 1990’s. DePaul won 10 C-USA games and beat a pair of top 25 teams. DePaul placed two players on the All-Conference USA team including the first first-team pick since 2000 in Quemont Greer.
Over his three seasons, he compiled a record of 58-34 that included 44 victories over his final two seasons. In addition to the 2004 squad reaching the NCAA second round, that team also claimed the C-USA regular-season championship before falling in the championship game of the conference tournament.
Leitao's recruiting success at DePaul saw the Blue Demons sign three eventual NBA Draft picks in Wilson Chandler, Sammy Mejia and Dorell Wright.
Chandler played two seasons at DePaul (2005-07) before he was selected as the 23rd pick in 2007 by the New York Knicks. Mejia played four years at DePaul (2003-07) and was also picked in the 2007 draft as the 57th selection by the Detroit Pistons. Wright signed his NLI with DePaul, but elected to enter the 2004 draft and he was the 19th overall selection by the Miami Heat.
Prior to his first stint at DePaul, Leitao was associate head coach at Connecticut for six seasons and helped the Huskies win the 1999 NCAA Championship. He was also head coach at Northeastern from 1994-96.
Before making the move to DePaul in 2002, Leitao spent six seasons as the associate head coach at Connecticut. During those six campaigns, the Huskies experienced unprecedented success compiling a 156-51 (.754) record highlighted by capturing the 1999 NCAA Championship with a thrilling 77-74 victory over Duke. He also helped guide the Huskies to three other appearances in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Elite Eight twice and the second round once. Connecticut also reached the NIT semifinals and NIT second round in that time span.
Leitao got Connecticut’s run to the 1999 NCAA title off on the right foot when he filled in for head coach Jim Calhoun, who had taken ill prior to the game, in the 91-66 opening round win over Texas-San Antonio.
Leitao spent two seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, Northeastern. In his first year (1994-95), he directed the Huskies to a record of 18-11, which was the biggest one-season turnaround in the nation, and into the North Atlantic Conference Tournament Championship game. He compiled an overall two-year record at Northeastern of 22-35.
Leitao played an integral role in the building of Connecticut basketball into the nationally-regarded program that it is today. As an assistant coach for eight seasons (1986-94) in Storrs, the Huskies posted a record of 162-91 (.640), made four appearances in the NCAA Tournament and won the 1988 NIT Championship.
Leitao was instrumental in highly successful recruiting efforts at Connecticut, which put a number of talented student-athletes in Huskie uniforms including Chris Smith, Scott Burrell, Donyell Marshall, Donny Marshall and Ray Allen.
Leitao joined Calhoun’s coaching staff as an assistant at Northeastern in the fall of 1984 and spent two seasons at the Boston school. With him on the bench, the Huskies reached the NCAA Tournament in both seasons (1985 and 1986) and compiled a record of 48-14 (.774). He then followed Calhoun to Connecticut in the spring of 1986.
Leitao began a long-term playing and working relationship with Calhoun as a four-year standout at Northeastern from 1978-82. With Leitao on the floor, the Huskies sported a sparkling record of 79-34 (.699) and reached the NCAA Tournament in both 1981 and 1982. During his senior season, he helped the Huskies to the second round of the tournament with a 63-62 win over St. Joseph’s before bowing out to Villanova 76-71 in a triple-overtime classic. In that game, Leitao played a total of 54 minutes.
Following the 2004-05 season at DePaul, Leitao accepted the head coach position at Virginia and led the Cavaliers for four seasons. After a NIT appearance in his first season, Virginia shared the ACC title with North Carolina and Leitao was named ACC Coach of the Year and the NABC District 5 Coach of the Year. The 2006-07 season saw the Cavaliers picked eighth in the ACC preseason poll before Leitao led Virginia to a share of the league title with North Carolina and record the most conference wins with 11 since the 1994-95 campaign. Virginia reached the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament for the program’s first tournament appearance since 2001 and first tournament victory since 1995. In addition to his accolades, he also tutored eventual NBA Draft pick Sean Singletary. Singletary earned All-American honors and was the 42nd overall pick of the 2008 draft by the Sacramento Kings.
Most recently, Leitao was an assistant coach at Missouri and Tulsa under Frank Haith. Missouri posted back-to-back 20-win seasons in his time in Columbia that included one NCAA and one NIT appearance. In his final season at Tulsa, Leitao helped the Golden Hurricane to 23 wins and a NIT berth. Following the 2014-15 season, Leitao was ranked No. 20 in the Basketball Times list of the top 50 assistant coaches in the nation.
Leitao joins women's basketball coach Doug Bruno as coaches who left DePaul programs and returned. Bruno led the Blue Demons from 1976-78 before returning to his alma mater in 1988. Since returning, Bruno has led the program to 21 NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 13 career seasons as a collegiate head coach, Leitao holds a record of 191-211. Of the 13 seasons as a head coach, he has led teams to seven postseason tournaments including advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament at both DePaul (2004) and Virginia (2007).
Leitao, 59, graduated from Northeastern in 1983 with BS degree in Business Administration. He and his wife Joyce are the proud parents of three sons, David III, Reese and Tyson. David played for the Blue Demons while Reese is a sophomore tight end at Texas.