PHILADELPHIA — Mike Dunleavy began his professional playing career in this city 40 years ago as a rookie guard on a 76ers team featuring Julius Erving.
On Monday, Tulane’s new men’s basketball coach resurfaced in the City of Brotherly Love, this time at American Athletic Conference media day, as he continued chugging along toward his first season as a college head coach.
“I always like coming back to Philadelphia,” he said. “I had a good start here.”
Dunleavy, who spent 17 years as an NBA head coach, can only hope for a similar debut. The Green Wave was 12-21 in 2015-16, the last of coach Ed Conroy’s six seasons, and has not made the NCAA tournament since 1995. Tulane was picked to finish last in the 11-team conference in a poll of AAC coaches.
Dunleavy, 62, nonetheless sounded optimistic, saying his team is diligent and enthusiastic.
“Love going to work every single day,” he said. “Can’t wait to go to practice every single day.”
He is expecting "great things” from senior guard Malik Morgan, the team’s top returning scorer (12.4), rebounder (5.0) and playmaker (2.4 assists).
Dunleavy believes Cam Reynolds can become a “stretch 4” — a 3-point-shooting power forward — after averaging 6.6 points last season, largely off the bench. The new coach sees small forward Melvin Frazer, another reserve in 2015-16, as a lockdown defender, center Ryan Smith as a developing talent and freshman Colin Slater as a promising newcomer at point guard.
His players are following their new coach’s lead.
“I don’t think we’re a last-place team in this league,” said Smith, a 6-foot-11 senior. “I think we’re in the top four or five teams, because we have so much talent that we haven’t unlocked yet.”
Dunleavy hasn’t coached since stepping down as the Los Angeles Clippers’ boss during the 2009-10 season. He previously led the NBA's Lakers, Bucks and Trail Blazers, compiling a 613-716 regular-season record.
After leaving the Clippers, Dunleavy moved from Los Angeles to Fort Worth, Texas, and joined a group that was looking to buy the New Orleans Pelicans. He also visited practices at Villanova, where his son Baker is associate head coach under Jay Wright, and SMU, where his nephew Kevin, now a graduate assistant at the school, played under Larry Brown.
All of that whet Dunleavy’s appetite.
“The more I watched guys do their teaching,” he said, “I just said, ‘I really like this. I’d like to get it a try. So let me go someplace I can spend the next 10 to 15 years.’ ”
He believes Tulane — “a hidden gem,” as he called it — is that place.
After Dunleavy was hired, Smith said, “everyone started Googling him. We were astounded, actually, just by his résumé alone. It stands for itself.”
Dunleavy said the transition to the college ranks was not terribly difficult, and he will use the same offensive system he used in the pros. It seems to agree with the players.
“We want to play open," Morgan said. "We want to push the tempo whenever we can and really space the floor and really be able to get our shooters open.”
The new coach can only hope new possibilities open for the program, too.