COLUMBIA — With the game’s outcome no longer in doubt late in the fourth quarter, David Leitao leaped into the air, extended both arms, hauled in Nick Norton’s lob pass and emphatically slammed it through the basket, adding an exclamation mark to Rock Bridge's rout of Jefferson City last Tuesday night.
Watching the senior's highlight-reel-caliber dunk from the fourth row of the bleachers were his mother and the eldest of his two brothers. Absent was his father, Missouri men’s basketball assistant coach Dave Leitao.
Playing in front of a dad-less crowd is nothing new to David Leitao. For the Bruins center, his father having to miss the majority of his games due to work duties is simply a fact of life; something he came to grips with years ago.
“He does what he can, I know he’s a busy guy, I take it how it is,” David Leitao said.
For Dave Leitao, his absences simply come with his job. As an assistant on coach Frank Haith’s staff, his commitments with the Tigers often cause him to miss his son's games He has only seen three this season.
“It’s always tough, but it’s been that way. I’ve been coaching for a lot of years and missed many more games than I’ve seen … it’s not ideal, and I’d love to be there, but I know that all my children understand that part of it,” Dave Leitao said.
Another part of the job is relocation. Twenty-six years of coaching experience have involved stints at six different jobs.
The soft-spoken MU assistant served as an assistant at Northeastern in Boston from 1984to 1986 before taking over the same role at Connecticut for the next eight years. After two years as head coach at Northeastern, he returned to Connecticut for six more seasons as associate head coach before becoming head coach at DePaul in 2002. After three years in Chicago, he became the head man at Virginia for four seasons. After two years out of coaching, he resurfaced as head coach of the NBDL’s Maine Red Claws in 2011 before being named to Haith’s current staff at Missouri this past June.
Having to pack up and move again after having just settled down can be unnerving to a family, especially one with children. As a father, Dave Leitao assessed the numerous moves as a give-and-take situation, one in which he thought the positives outweighed the negatives.
“You give up community sometimes and family in the area and those kinds of things where you have established friendships but I don’t think you can give up the fact that they’ve got a great relationships with a lot of different people that they wouldn’t have if we didn’t go to different places,” Dave Leitao said.
The well-being of his family, especially his three children, has played a significant role in every career decision he has made. If he didn’t have the blessings of the other people in the household to take another job, he wouldn't do so.
The jump from Maine to Missouri meant attending his fourth different high school in as many years, but David Leitao was the first member of the family to sign on with the idea of a move to the Show-Me State.
“I’m always down for change, especially for the family, so whatever’s best for the family is best for me,” David Leitao said. “My dad really liked the situation and the team’s really good, we’ve got a good squad this year at Mizzou so I was just gung-ho for the family.
“I’m used to the traveling and changing, it’s tough sometimes but once you get used to it, you kind of bounce back faster.”
Having lived in a college town before while his father was at UVA, David Leitao knew what kind of atmosphere to expect in his new surroundings. A self-described “very sociable person,” the teenager welcomed the task of being in a new school as a senior with open arms and quickly felt comfortable after making new friends.
His first friends were two of his current teammates, sophomore Ryan Kreklow and Norton. David Leitao met his fellow Bruins while on campus this summer. Kreklow’s parents, Wayne and Susan Kreklow, coach the Tigers volleyball team and Norton’s father, Randy, is the associate head coach for the Missouri women’s basketball team.
While not an ideal situation to put a child in, Dave Leitao admires how his son has handled the unique set of circumstances he’s faced throughout his upbringing.
“There’s always bumps along the road when you have young people; teenagers especially, but he’s handled it very well,” Dave Leitao said.
While David Leitao has never been able to permanently call one place home, the most physically imposing player on the Bruins roster has become a mainstay around the basket as the anchor of Rock Bridge’s defense this season.
His play has drawn the attention of various colleges and he plans to continue his hoops career at the collegiate level. Cardinal Stritch in Wisconsin, Hendrix College in Arkansas and Westminster College in Fulton are vying for his services.
Whichever school David Leitao decides to attend will be his fifth different school in five years.
So, does the task of having to once again begin anew faze the well-traveled teenager?
“No, not at all,” a chuckling David Leitao said.