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Leitao Sets Cavs' Agenda

By Michael Arkush
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page D04

CHARLOTTESVILLE, April 17 -- Things on Dave Leitao's to-do list in the coming days: Compile a staff. Get to know his players. Evaluate a program that made only one NCAA tournament appearance in seven years under predecessor Pete Gillen.

One item that he can cross off the list is to make it clear, as he did during Sunday's introductory news conference, that the new coach of the University of Virginia men's basketball team will hold high expectations from the start.

Dave Leitao, 44, takes over as men's basketball coach at Virginia after going 58-34 in three seasons at DePaul. (Brady Wolfe -- The Daily Progress Via AP)

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"I can tell you the next time we play a basketball team, these young men will play and fight together like never before," said Leitao, 44, who is leaving DePaul after three seasons at the helm. "We want to build, not for today, not just for tomorrow, but for long-lasting success. That's what I've been about. That's been my history. I really don't know it any other way."

Leitao, whose wife, Joyce, and three sons sat in the front row, said he regards his selection as the first black head coach in any sport at the school to be an honor and responsibility. At the same time, he added, "I'm a basketball coach, and one who looks at me will see the same things as if my skin color were anything else."

Leitao, who was 58-34 at DePaul, including an NCAA tournament appearance in 2004, agreed to take the job on Friday, ending a monthlong search that included South Carolina Coach Dave Odom. Odom, who met with Athletic Director Craig Littlepage during the Final Four in St. Louis, has denied receiving an offer. Littlepage would not address a question about Odom.

"Today is not the day to go into that," Littlepage said.

Leitao's hiring comes at a critical time for the program. After one more year at University Hall, the Cavaliers will move to the $130 million, 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena for the 2006-07 season.

Littlepage has known Leitao for more than 20 years. Littlepage was the coach at Rutgers while Leitao was starting his career as an assistant coach under Jim Calhoun at Northeastern. In 1986, Leitao went to Connecticut when Calhoun became head coach.

Last week, in his Chicago hotel room, Littlepage spent hours watching tapes of DePaul games he had requested from Leitao.

"I wanted a coach whose team would rebound relentlessly," Littlepage said.

"They rebound the heck out of the basketball. His teams played shutout defense. . . . In four of the six games I watched, there were stretches of five to seven minutes where DePaul held their opponents to no field goals."

For Leitao, who agreed to a five-year contract for $925,000 annually, this will be his third experience as a head coach. He was 22-35 in two seasons (1994-96) at Northeastern, his alma mater, before rejoining Calhoun in Connecticut as associate head coach until 2002. Leitao indicated he has learned a lot since his Northeastern days.

"I've made sure to become well-rounded," he said, "to look at things on both sides of the fence, to know why you win, to accept losing the right way."

Attending Sunday's news conference were all eight of Virginia's returning scholarship players, and university President John T. Casteen III, who also has known Leitao for 20 years. The players met with Leitao for a few minutes afterward, and were scheduled to talk with him again Sunday evening.

"He's coming in with a lot of energy," said freshman point guard Sean Singletary. "If the players can listen and match his intensity, we'll be fine. I feel that, with the core group of guys we have, we have a lot of talent. He's developed some great players."

The challenge will be formidable. The Cavaliers, who will lose seniors Elton Brown and Devin Smith, last season finished 14-15 overall, 4-12 in the ACC.

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