Mike Dunleavy provides Tulane basketball hope and a high-profile name
When Troy Dannen took over as Tulane’s director of athletics a year ago, he set about changing the attitude and expectations of the Green Wave’s athletic program.
“The biggest thing that I’ve found broken is the culture. Winning hasn’t been talked about,” Dannen, 49, said. “We’re here to win and be successful competitively.”
In the last 12 months, Dannen has had the luxury to hire head coaches for his football, men’s basketball and baseball programs. While baseball has found sustained success and football has the novelty of a new on-campus stadium, Dannen described men’s basketball as “on it’s back, dead for nearly 30 years.”
Then, a gift seemingly fell in Dannen’s lap. Mike Dunleavy, former NBA player, coach, and GM, wanted to take his first college-level job at Tulane.
“When a guy of Mike’s pedigree presented himself, he gives us instant credibility overnight,” Dannen said.
Dunleavy is the highest-profile name on Dannen’s roster, and arguably the most recognizable coach’s name in Tulane history.
The 1999 NBA Coach of the Year, Dunleavy, 62, brings more than 30 years of NBA experience as a player, general manager and head coach to the Green Wave. He played guard in the NBA for 15 years from 1976-1990, including stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks. While with the Bucks he served as an assistant coach while playing. As soon as his playing career ended, he began a 14-year career as a head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, where he also served as general manager.
“Coming here was all about a hidden gem,” Dunleavy said. “I thought Tulane’s campus and the city of New Orleans was a great place to have a chance to build a program.”
Known as a great talent evaluator, master strategist and teacher of the game, Dunleavy said he wants his team to play an up-tempo offense with multiple looks on defense. Yet he is pragmatic in his approach, saying the team can’t be remade overnight, especially in the framework of limited scholarships available to build the program.
“The only chance we have of getting into the NCAA Tournament is by winning our conference,” Dunleavy said. “That means we have to consistently be the best that we can be.”
That will be difficult. Tulane plays in the American Athletic Conference, a strong basketball league which features tough competition in Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, Temple, Tulsa, Houston and SMU. Yet Dunleavy says he’s up to the challenge.
“It starts at the bottom with a great foundation and then goes piece by piece,” he said. “Right now it’s all about growing. We’re learning to play as a group — we instead of me. We’re going through a learning curve and some growing pains with underclassmen. They’re learning how to read situations and react,” he said. “There are some positive things going on, and we’re going to keep building on that.”
Mike Dunleavy at a glance
• Dunleavy is Tulane’s 24th head men’s basketball coach in the program’s 106-year history.
• His first trip to New Orleans was as an NBA rookie to play the Jazz.
• He played college basketball at South Carolina from 1972-76 and was a sixth-round draft pick (99th overall) by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976.
• As a student majoring in psychology, the Brooklyn native was a straight-A student.
• He has coached five Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers, including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Moses Malone, Scottie Pippen, Arvydas Sabonis and James Worthy.
• In addition to his basketball careers, Dunleavy worked for New York investment firms Standard & Poor’s and Merrill Lynch.
• Dunleavy and his wife, Emily, have three sons: Mike Dunleavy Jr., who plays for the Chicago Bulls; Baker Dunleavy, the associate coach at Villanova; and James Dunleavy, an NBA player agent.
• His brother-in-law, Miles Clements, and sister-in-law are both Tulane grads and longtime New Orleans residents.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.