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DePaul AD DeWayne Peevy wants big dreams and banners, but he has a Dave Leitao problem

Leitao’s very presence signifies to some an acceptance of mediocrity — of rampant losing — in the school’s bellcow sport. Will DeWayne Peevy really stake his own reputation on him?

Dave Leitao coaches in 2019.
Dave Leitao coaches in 2019.
Quinn Harris/Getty Images

DeWayne Peevy had never seen Chicago in the summertime before his early-August visit to interview for the job of athletic director at DePaul. Even in the clutches of a pandemic, the city worked its magic. The lake shone blue. The skyline sparkled. The neighborhood streets radiated vibrancy.

“From the first time I walked through Lincoln Park with my family,” said Peevy, who begins his new gig Sept. 1, “we knew this was the place for us.”

But Peevy, 47, has never experienced DePaul men’s basketball in the wintertime, either, and that’s a whole different picture. It has been as bleak and foreboding as nine last-place finishes in the last 11 Big East seasons — and no NCAA Tournament appearances since 2004 — sounds.

There are reasons no coach has compiled a winning record at the school since Joey Meyer’s run came to a gasping halt in 1997. One surely must be the nature of a place where former AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto and coach Dave Leitao could last so long without producing on-court success in the athletic department’s bellcow sport.

“I can’t attest to what’s been accepted here before — obviously, I’m walking in the door — but I do think a winning, championship-level culture is part of the process,” Peevy said.

This isn’t Kentucky, where Peevy has spent the last 12 years and, as deputy AD, oversaw the Wildcats’ men’s basketball monster. And Leitao isn’t John Calipari, who has taken teams at three schools to Final Fours — Kentucky four times — and won it all in 2012 with a team led by Chicago superstar Anthony Davis.

But Leitao is Peevy’s basketball coach, for now. The coming season — if there is one — will be his ninth at DePaul and his sixth since Ponsetto rehired him in 2015. He is 64-98 overall and a hard-to-fathom 19-71 in league play since coming back.

Peevy calls the NCAA Tournament “not the ceiling where we’re trying to get to, but the floor, something that we’re counting on every year.” He comes in talking big dreams and banners.

“I’m here to try to win a national championship,” he said. “If everybody’s not on board with dreaming those kinds of dreams, then you might not be cut out for DePaul athletics.”

Yet the early steps toward a return to hoops relevance could be more than a little awkward. Leitao’s very presence signifies to some an acceptance of mediocrity — of rampant losing — at DePaul. Will he really have a chance to be the coach Peevy stakes his own reputation on?

At Kentucky, Peevy had a front-row seat as Billy Gillispie was fired and Calipari blew into town and averaged 34 wins in Years 1-3. In football, Peevy watched Mark Stoops replace Joker Phillips and build a program strong enough that, as Peevy puts it, a coach doesn’t “get a statue” for merely reaching any old bowl game.

DePaul’s new AD knows what real success looks like.

“But that’s not something you have to change coaches to [have],” Peevy said. “That’s part of my job to bring a different level, [to have] a conversation right away with coach Leitao. . . . How do we accomplish goals right now? What can we do right now to build the DePaul brand to a point where it’s more attractive to young people.”

Are young people going to be attracted to a coach who might be one-and-done with his new boss? That’s one hard question DePaul basketball is up against at this very moment. Nothing about this will be easy.

JUST SAYIN’

In a sane world, DePaul, Illinois, Northwestern, Loyola and UIC would play one another every season. You want to add other city and state schools to the list, go ahead. We’re just dreaming here anyway.

DeWayne Peevy digs the idea.

“Maybe one of the charges that I take on early is to try to create a unique event, especially from Chicago’s standpoint, and we bring all the schools to one place, and we play each other and just bring everybody together and have a unique event to celebrate college basketball in Chicago,” he said.

Can the man get an “amen”?

† Look, it’s not complicated: All the Bulls have to do with the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft is find their Donovan Mitchell.

Easy peasy, right?

If I’m basketball ops honcho Arturas Karnisovas, one question is on repeat in my head as I look at each prospect: Can this guy be the best player on the floor in a playoff game? Utah’s Mitchell has been that in the NBA bubble, and it has been compelling and spectacular.

Forget about fit. The Bulls need someone you get the ball to when the pressure’s high and then get the hell out of his way. They have Zach LaVine, who’s as close to Mitchell as I am to fitting into one of Karnisovas’ suits. And Mitchell was selected 13th in 2017, so the but-this-is-a-weak-draft excuse doesn’t cut it.

† What, you thought I was going to name the player the Bulls should take at No. 4? Please, they’re not paying me enough.

† At last, lefty Jose Quintana is pitching for the Cubs again.

“I know it’s taken me a little time, but now I feel ready to do my job,” he said. “Whatever role I get, I’m just happy to be there.”

Translation:

“Come near me with that Palmolive, and I’ll end you.”

† It’s great news that the White Sox have brought infielder Yolmer Sanchez back into the organization. I don’t know if he’ll be of any use to the big-league club on the field in September, but can the Sox spare a roster spot just so Sanchez can run out of the dugout and dump a few gallons of Gatorade onto his head when somebody else has a walk-off hit?