For the first time in his 62-year-old, basketball-filled life, Mike Dunleavy Sr. adds the word “college” in front of his title of basketball coach.
The coaching part should be easy for Dunleavy, who will be introduced as Tulane’s new coach Tuesday.
Those around the NBA have no doubts about the coaching part.
And they shouldn’t.
Dunleavy, after all, spent 17 years in the NBA as a head coach, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1991 and earning Coach of the Year honors in 1999 with Portland.
It’s the “college” part that raised a few eyebrows when Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen decided to go with Dunleavy to revive the program.
Dunleavy, who hasn’t coached on any level in six seasons, has never coached in college.
“We know he can coach,” Walt “Clyde” Frazier said. “But can he relate to the kids? That’s going to be the question. These kids today ain’t what they used to be.”
Frazier, the Basketball Hall of Famer, was in town Monday night handling television broadcasting duties for the New York Knicks, who were playing the Pelicans.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has known Dunleavy for 25 years and thinks he will adjust just fine to the college game.
“The big thing for Mike is he’s an easy sell to a recruit,” Gentry said. “He’s been there, so he knows what it takes to get a guy to the NBA. I think Tulane is a great opportunity. It gives them a boost as far as name recognition, so it’s good for their program.”
Tulane fans are hoping Dunleavy can do for them what Larry Brown did (minus the NCAA sanctions) at American Athletic Conference neighbor SMU this season, leading that school to 25 wins this season.
Twenty-plus wins would likely get Tulane back into the NCAA tournament.
The Green Wave hasn’t been to the Big Dance since 1995, before most of the players on this year’s roster were even born.
Heck, many of them were still in preschool the last time Tulane made it to the Little Dance. (The last NIT trip was in 2000.)
Kurt Rambis, interim coach of the Knicks, thinks Dunleavy will adjust.
“They are getting a career basketball guy,” Rambis said. “He loves basketball, and he enjoys being in the gym, and he enjoys the players. He is a no-nonsense guy, great communicator, and the players are going to like him. He is going to hold them accountable and be very demanding, but they will like the way he gets them to play.”
Will the fans like it too?
Dannen sure hopes so.
Attendance at Devlin Fieldhouse has dwindled.
Gentry thinks a name like Dunleavy can help with that.
“College is all about salesmanship,” Gentry said. “You look at a guy like (John) Calipari; he’s successful everywhere he’s been because he has that personality that he can sell. I think Mike is a very intelligent guy, a likeable guy, so I think he will be able to sell Tulane basketball.”
The Tulane athletic department has asked students and fans to show up for Tuesday’s news conference introducing its new coach. Just how many show up could be a good indication of just how fired up they are about the hire.
And while Dunleavy gives the Green Wave a big name, it’s the assistants who could be even more important. Will he keep the guys on former coach Ed Conroy’s staff? Or he could bring in a new staff to handle what is probably the most important part the job: recruiting. Dunleavy’s never had to recruit.
“It all comes down — as always, same thing in the NBA — you have to get players,” Rambis said. “You have to get talent and a lot of that revolves on recruiting. But he’s a good communicator, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
But will he be a good college coach?
Time will tell.