The Real DiLeo: Family connections helped bring freshman forward to CMU

Freshman forward David DiLeo, right, splits a double team during the game against Green Bay on Dec. 6 at McGuirk Arena.

When junior center Luke Meyer picked up his fourth foul two minutes into the second half at Tennessee Tech on Nov. 14, head coach Keno Davis looked to his bench to provide a boost for Central Michigan’s men’s basketball team.

He put in 6-foot-7 forward David DiLeo to pick up the slack and the freshman delivered. In just his second career game, DiLeo scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, had four steals and took a late charge to seal the win for the Chippewas.

“I have always gone into every game with the same mindset,” DiLeo said. “I’m going to make the hustle plays and get rebounds. I hit some shots in that game and got my confidence.”

Fatherly Ties

It was no coincidence DiLeo ended up at CMU. His father, Frank, played for Davis' father, Tom, at Lafayette College in the 1970s and worked as an assistant coach under him at Iowa in the '90s. 

Davis served as an undergraduate assistant under his father at Iowa and said he would help Frank DiLeo put together the scout team. The two would travel together to scout other teams before they would play them and got to know each other well. 

“I learned a lot from him going through the process of knowing I wanted to be a head coach at that age,” Davis said.

Frank DiLeo said he was impressed by Davis' knowledge of the game and could tell he would one day be a head coach like his father. 

"He had such a sharp basketball mind. He was thinking all the time helping wherever he could," he said. I always had respect for him as a coach and his father was one of the greatest coaches to never make the hall of fame."

The two became close friends over the years and Davis even served as an usher if Frank DiLeo’s wedding.

While Davis was the head coach at Drake in 2007, Frank DiLeo took his son to a practice and said his David built a connection with Keno and his father. He said David rooted for Drake that season and was heartbroken when they lost to Western Kentucky on a buzzer-beater in the NCAA Tournament. 

Davis realized DiLeo's potential as a player when he was in high school at Iowa City West — the same high school Davis attended. The two even played for the same coach, Steve Bergman, and Davis went to several open gyms at his former school to watch DiLeo play. 

DiLeo shot 50 percent as a senior, including 44.5 percent from 3-point range. He finished his high school career with three state championships and was named the Iowa City Press Gazette Player of the Year. 

After playing a year at New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire, DiLeo signed to come play for Davis at CMU.

"I could tell he had an attachment to Keno," Frank DiLeo said. "It's been fun to watch Keno develop as a coach and David as a player. I'm so happy they're off to a good start this season." 

DiLeo said he liked that Davis let shooters shoot when they were hot and liked his fast-paced offense.

“I knew what kind of program he ran and knew what type of player he was looking for,” he said “I knew with the system that I would fit right in.”

Early Impact

During the team’s first 11 games (8-3), start to the season, DiLeo has made a consistent impact off the bench and been rewarded with 22.7 minutes per game — more than Meyer and CMU’s other starting big man Cecil Williams. DiLeo is averaging 8.9 points, on 38 percent shooting, and 4.4.7 rebounds per game. 

DiLeo entered the program at a time when the Chippewas were in search of new difference makers. After losing three starters from last year’s team — which won back-to-back Mid-American Conference West Division titles— CMU has looked to transfers and freshmen to play big roles this year. 

DiLeo said the work in the off-season has been crucial in his development. 

“Both the coaches and upper classmen have done a good job of getting us freshmen feeling confident with the system and make it an easy transition,” he said. 

Davis said he felt his fellow Iowa native could come in and make an immediate impact.

“It’s nice to get that relationship going. Not just with a recruit, but with their family as well,” Davis said. “He was perfect for what we do and we are excited to have him.”

Davis compared DiLeo’s shooting abilities to senior Blake Hibbits and the program’s all-time leading 3-point shooter John Simons. DiLeo said he has worked this year to be more than just a 3-point shooter and sees a bright future for himself at Central Michigan.

“There’s always something to improve on,” he said. “As long as I am here, the sky is the limit.”