Sophomore DiLeo’s tennis background increases footwork on basketball court


David DiLeo
David DiLeo poses for a portrait before practice on Jan. 18 at McGuirk Arena.

As soon as David DiLeo took his first steps as a child, a tennis racquet was in his hands. 

The sophomore foward’s mother, Kay DiLeo, played collegiate tennis at Drake University and taught her husband, Frank DiLeo, to play when they met. 

David's parents may have assumed he would be a tennis player, until he fell in love with basketball. 

“My parents started me early (with tennis),” David said. “I’ve been playing my whole life all the way through high school. Once I got to college, I had to pick one and I found my love for basketball.”

Along with playing tennis as a child, Frank gave his son experience on the basketball court immediately. 

Frank played under CMU head coach Keno Davis’ father, Tom Davis, from 1972-1975 at Lafayette College. David graduated in 2015 from Iowa City West High School, which is Keno’s alma mater. 

“I was in (Frank's) wedding as an usher, so I had been following him for a while,” Keno said. “He played at the same high school for the same coach that I played my senior year. I knew all about him. The more we watched him, we knew he would make an immediate impact here.” 

A few NCAA Division III teams from Iowa showed interest in DiLeo as a tennis player, but his decision to play college basketball was made by his sophomore year in high school. 

“Local colleges knew I wasn’t looking to play tennis,” DiLeo said. “As far as AAU basketball, I didn’t showcase my talent there much because I already made my decision that, even though I love tennis, I wanted to play basketball in college.”

Playing tennis has helped DiLeo with footwork as a 3-point shooter for the Chippewas. He averages 13 points, seven rebounds, and 1.3 assists. The 6-foot-7, 216-pound forward leads CMU this season with 150 3-pointers attempted and 53 3-pointers made. 

“Tennis has helped my footwork in basketball because you’re constantly on your toes and don’t know where to move,” DiLeo said. “You’re really just playing off where your opponent hits the ball, so you need really good footwork.”

Davis thinks hand-eye coordination is DiLeo's best takeaway from tennis.

“I’ve seen the tennis and basketball players before and I think the lateral quickness and the ability to have that motor to change direction with speed is a similarity,” Keno said. “I’ve always liked guys that have grown up playing multiple sports.” 

Even though Mount Pleasant is strictly basketball for DiLeo, he still follows his favorite tennis player – Roger Federer. 

“I’m a big fan of Federer and watch tennis in the morning all the time,” David said. “John Isner is probably favorite American that’s playing right now.” 

At Iowa City West High School, DiLeo was a tennis team captain in the 2014-15 season. His team won state titles in 2012, 2013 and 2014. DiLeo was the state singles runner-up in 2015 and the state doubles champion in 2014. 

In 2014-15, David was named the West High Senior Male Athlete of the Year. 

“Josh Kozinski played (tennis) in high school, so I got him out there this past summer to play a little bit,” David said. “However, it’s pretty much basketball up here.”

His next project is to get redshirt freshman Innocent Nwoko, a 6-foot-11, 232-pound center with no tennis experience, to put a racquet in his hand. 

“I’ve challenged him to play me in tennis and I will play him in penalty kick shootouts, so I’ll find a way to get him in soccer,” David said. “We haven’t set a date to do it, but it would be fun to play each other in our second sports.”

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