Leitao faces recruiting challenge

Updated: April 19, 2005, 5:17 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Dave Leitao took over Virginia's basketball program Sunday, pledging to build a championship team with stiff defense and a commitment to rebounding.

Leitao, 44, agreed Saturday to a five-year contract worth $925,000 annually.

He becomes the first black head coach at Virginia in any sport, and perhaps the one under the most pressure to succeed immediately.

The school plans to open the $130 million, 15,000-seat John Paul Jones Arena for the 2006 season and needs to get its fans excited about the future.

"Pressure is a relative term and I don't think that anybody will put more pressure on me than I do on myself to make sure we play the game the right way," Leitao said at a news conference.

Pete Gillen, who resigned under pressure March 14 with six years left on his contract, couldn't do it in his last four seasons. The Cavaliers bottomed out this year, finishing 14-15 overall and 4-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, last among 11 teams.

Leitao pointed to several of his returning players sitting in the room and said, "The next time we play a basketball team, these young men will play and fight together like never before."

Games were routinely played in front of less-than-capacity crowds, even against rivals like North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and booing was common.

The need to reverse that trend was a big reason for the costly change. Not only did Virginia give Gillen a $2 million buyout, it also had to pay DePaul for Leitao. But athletic director Craig Littlepage declined to reveal that figure.

Leitao said he was honored to be coach and "the torch bearer for the future at such a critical time in this athletic department's history."

Like Gillen, Leitao will have to recruit players who have ACC-caliber talent and can meet Virginia's stringent academic requirements. Gillen never mastered that, and Leitao's ability to do it will be critical to his success.

In three seasons at DePaul, Leitao went 58-34 and took the Blue Demons to the NIT tournament twice and the NCAA tournament in 2003, where they reached the second round.

He also spent two seasons as a head coach at his alma mater, Northeastern, and did two stints as an assistant to Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, his coach in his playing days. In 1999, Connecticut won the national champion with Leitao as an assistant.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press