There have been plenty of changes at Quinnipiac over the past four months: new players, a new court, and of course a new coach. As Baker Dunleavy has settled into his new role taking over for Tom Moore as lead man in Hamden, his Villanova background has steadily taken root with the Bobcats.
Starting with his coaching staff right down to the on-court huddle, Dunleavy has slowly adapted the Villanova mentality to his new home. As players broke from one of their first practices of the offseason, one message was clear. The chant of 1-2-3-Attitude! to cap practice – a staple for Jay Wright’s Wildcats – was now ingrained in the Bobcats.
Longtime Wright assistant Tom Pecora became Dunleavy’s first recruit after taking over at Quinnipiac in late March. Pecora assumed the head coaching position at Hofstra after Wright’s departure to Villanova in 2001 and later headed the squad at Fordham.
“He’s been a mentor to me; somebody who I’ve always looked up to as a coach,” Dunleavy said of Pecora. “When the opportunity came, first of all I was humbled that he would even want to be a part of it because of the success that he had. The fact that he would want to be a part of this – first of all it said a lot to me about our relationship, but also what he viewed Quinnipiac could be.”
Rounding out Dunleavy’s coaching staff are Shaun Morris and Anthony Goins, who assisted under brothers Joe and James Jones at Boston University and Yale respectively. Joe Jones served as an assistant under Wright at both Hofstra and Villanova.
“I’m a big believer in whether you’re recruiting a player or hiring a staff, to do your due diligence and to hire people that you can trust,” Dunleavy added. “I felt a really high level of comfort and trust with those guys. They come from winning experiences, and that doesn’t happen by accident.”
Shortly after Dunleavy’s hire, the Bobcats saw last year’s MAAC Rookie of the Year Mikey Dixon and fellow All-MAAC Rookie team member Peter Kiss depart for St. John’s and Rutgers, respectively. Each surpassed the previous school record for points by a freshman (13.0) set by Rob Monroe in 2001-02. Dixon ended the season as the team’s leading scorer with 16.5 ppg while Kiss capped the year with 13.3 per contest.
Following the mold created at Villanova, Dunleavy did not begrudge any player’s choice to leave the program. In 2015, the Wildcats’ Dylan Ennis chose to depart to the University of Oregon as a graduate transfer. Despite Ennis’ projected value to a Villanova team that would eventually go on to win a National Championship, head coach Wright helped the guard follow through on his decision rather than attempt to keep him at Villanova in a situation where he would not be happy.
“It probably makes it easier that I never had them,” Dunleavy said of the departing players. “It would probably be harder if they were my guys that I recruited and coached, and then they left. I think those guys felt like they had incredible opportunities. Certainly, I wanted them to explore those opportunities, and if anybody chose to come back, whether it was the guys that left or who are here, I wanted them to be two feet in. So the guys that did leave, wherever they end up they should be all-in wherever they go.”
Despite the loss of those key players along with a handful of others, the Bobcats did retain rising senior Chaise Daniels, who averaged 13.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game a year ago. The Connecticut native has long been the Bobcats’ vocal leader on the court and is poised to take on a major role with many of the MAAC’s best big men having graduated this spring.
“In terms of what plays we run and what we’re trying to get done, I think it’ll be based on our personnel and it starts with having a pretty experienced big guy,” Dunleavy said of Daniels. “We can’t come down, play fast and jack threes over Chaise’s head. He’s an experienced good player in our league and he’s got to be a big part of what we do.”
While Moore’s system demanded a bruising mentality underneath the basket which led to the Bobcats becoming one of the nation’s top rebounding squads year after year, Dunleavy’s style of play promises to be more fluid. With fewer players locked into specific positions, the hope is to take advantage of mismatches, make the extra pass, and play a focused brand of basketball.
“I’m comfortable with very much a spread offense and a versatile and intense defense, so those things will definitely be in place,” Dunleavy added. “We’re going to want to be a defensive-first basketball team. I think we have good length. My hope is that we can be in the top part of our league defensively. That’s where it’s got to start, and then establish a culture offensively that we’re making the next right play.”
One position that promises to get a lot of attention in Dunleavy’s new system is point guard. Ryan Arcidiacono became a household name while leading Villanova to a National Championship, but Dunleavy’s first Quinnipiac squad will likely see more bumps along the road.
Incoming freshman Rich Kelly will be relied upon to take the brunt of the action at point guard, with Penn State transfer Isaiah Washington likely sharing some time as facilitator. Another in-state product, Kelly played high school basketball at Fairfield Prep before taking a final year at Cheshire Academy, one town over from Hamden.
“He’s taking it in stride,” Dunleavy said of Kelly’s role. “It’s set up for him right now to kind of get thrown into the fire, but he’s a very intelligent person and player, and he’s tough. He’s shown me a lot, and I’m excited about him. I think whatever he gets this year he’s going to earn, and he’s got no false pretenses about that.”
Michigan graduate transfer Andrew Dakich had previously committed to join the Bobcats and projected to split time at the point guard position, but just last week chose to take advantage of an open role at Ohio State.
“He’s a guy that’s kind of connected to that area and feels most at home there, and so when he explained that to me, I was happy for him,” Dunleavy said of Dakich’s departure. “Kind of like the other guys, you want players that say ‘this is the best place for me.’ It’s not that he didn’t like it here, it was a matter of ‘there’s a better place for me,’ so I was totally on board with it.”
Through the flurry of changes this offseason, the existing administration in the university’s higher offices along with the new administration on the court have remained committed to pursuing a new era of basketball success in Hamden.
“Quinnipiac may not have a long history of basketball success, but I do believe the school from the President to the AD to all the coaches that are here, wants to be great,” Dunleavy said. “Because of that, we can be. At most successful places, the administration sets the tone for that, and I think that is certainly the case here from what I’ve seen.”
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.