Mike Dunleavy wore a gray suit, accented with a green tie and a green and white checkered shirt to his introductory news conference as Tulane’s new men’s basketball coach.
He also wore a little confidence.
Well, actually a lot of it.
If Dunleavy were the little engine that could, they’d have to change the script from “I think I can” to “I know I can.”
That’s just how positive the long-time NBA coach is that he will be successful in his first college gig.
He talked about having the Green Wave basketball team one day playing in late March and early April, a date reserved for teams reaching the Final Four.
“I can’t say how long it will take to get there,” Dunleavy said. “It depends on a lot of factors. … I think it can get done here, and I think I’m going to do it.”
Dunleavy’s résumé speaks for itself. He has spent 17 years as a head coach in the NBA, taking the Los Angeles Lakers to the Finals in 1991 and winning coach of the year with Portland in 1999.
And if the résumé didn’t say it, Dunleavy did.
When it comes to NBA caliber players, Dunleavy had this to say: “There’s nobody out there coaching today who can prepare them better than I can. I will argue that I can prepare them the best.”
But if you’ve followed the Green Wave, you know that the roster isn’t lined with NBA caliber players.
Dunleavy said he can fix that too, citing his uncanny ability to evaluate talent. He spoke of his connections all over the world, many of whom he expects to help him bring blue-chip talent Uptown.
“I understand talent, and I know talent,” he said.
He even boasted on his jump shot, which he said was better than anyone on his team at his most-recent coaching job.
That was with the L.A. Clippers in 2010.
He admitted to being a bit of a trash talker when playing against his players, even at the ripe old age of 62.
“It’s my way of motivating guys to get better,” he said.
Whatever it takes, the Green Wave faithful are hoping it works. Tulane hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1995.
Dunleavy believes in himself.
And his players are starting to believe in him.
Even the ones who knew a whole lot more about Mike Dunleavy Jr. (a guard with the Chicago Bulls) than Mike Dunleavy Sr.
“But now that I’ve done my research and background checks, he checks out,” guard Malik Morgan said. “You look at all the people he’s been around. I’m really impressed. In the next couple of years, he can take us where he wants and take Tulane higher and higher.”
Dunleavy lives basketball (he pulled a small sheet of paper out of his suit pocket that was filled with diagrams of plays he had written down after watching games on TV).
“Basketball has been our life,” said Emily Dunleavy, anxious to become a coach’s wife again after her husband’s six-year hiatus from coaching.
Not only do the Dunleavys eat and breathe basketball, they also breed it.
Dunleavy took the time to point out his three sons, who all played Division I basketball.
He said Tulane can be like the schools where two of his sons played: Mike played at Duke, and Baker played and now coaches at Final Four participant Villanova.
“There’s no way you can’t win in a big way here,” Dunleavy said. “I may be naïve, but that’s my goal.”
Tulane athletic directory Troy Dannen said he believes he landed the man to get it done.
“He gives immediate credibility to our program that didn’t exist yesterday,” Dannen said.
Dunleavy finished his NBA career with 613 victories. He earned his first collegiate victory Tuesday, giving Tulane fans hope again.
But Tuesday’s victory was easy.
Introductory news conferences always are.
“I didn’t hire him to win the press conference, I hired him to win games,” Dannen said. “Mike wins both.”
Dannen is hoping it’s the last news conference he’ll have to have in a while after the school introduced a new football coach just three and a half months ago.
He hopes he nailed back-to-back home runs with Willie Fritz then and now Dunleavy.
“It’s a home run today,” Dannen said. “But everybody’s a home run until the first loss. The ability to turn our program to where we want it to be and where we need to be, I don’t think we could find anybody better.”
Dunleavy would agree.