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John Smallwood: DiLeo still adjusting as Sixers' head coach, but two wins a good start

TONY DiLEO spent the previous few days exhaling – well, at least between adjusting to becoming a head coach again for the first time in nearly two decades and doing it at the highest level of basketball for a team that has been underachieving.

YONG KIM / Staff photographer
YONG KIM / Staff photographerRead more

TONY DiLEO spent the previous few days exhaling – well, at least between adjusting to becoming a head coach again for the first time in nearly two decades and doing it at the highest level of basketball for a team that has been underachieving.

"It's a huge adjustment," said DiLeo, the Sixers' senior vice president/assistant general manager, who took over as head coach when Maurice Cheeks was fired on Saturday. "Right now, it's like 24 hours of thinking about the team, planning for the team, watching film.

"But that's what I missed when I wasn't coaching, that day-to-day excitement, just planning, either winning or losing, making adjustments and coming back the next day. It is a major adjustment time-wise. You're focused on one thing."

DiLeo, whose last head-coaching gig was from 1979-90 in West Germany, insists coaching is just like riding a bike.

"It comes back," DiLeo said. "A lot of the feelings, a lot of everything we've done in practice, setting up drills, doing drills, going over scouting reports, that's the same, so that's come back quickly."

On Saturday, when Sixers president/general manager Ed Stefanski named him as Cheeks' replacement, DiLeo had little time to digest what was happening because the Sixers were playing Washington that night.

He had practices on Monday and Tuesday before last night's game against Milwaukee.

"It's definitely different," DiLeo said before the 93-88, come-from-behind victory. "I really didn't have time to prepare for the last game.

"I think [his emotions] are a little different, because I've had time to think about things, wind down a little bit after Saturday. I do feel different today, a little more relaxed."

Clearly, Stefanski's choice of DiLeo raised eyebrows.

It wasn't just that DiLeo's last head-coaching experience came nearly 20 years ago, but coaching men and women's teams in West Germany isn't exactly the ideal preparation for coaching in the NBA.

But DiLeo, who joined the Sixers organization starting in the 1990-91 season, worked as an assistant coach under Larry Brown, Fred Carter, Jim Lynam, John Lucas and Doug Moe.

And ultimately, basketball is still basketball, so if DiLeo if overwhelmed, he's not showing it.

"Over the years as an assistant coach, I came up with a lot of plays," DiLeo said. "I have a philosophy of what I want to do offensively.

"What I have to do is see what plays we like, what plays are working, which ones I want to build on, and then maybe change other things and put in some new plays.

"I think you'll see some differences in different areas that we are emphasizing, but a major, complete difference, you're not going to see it in 3 days."

Well, one discernible difference is that the Sixers are now 2-0 under DiLeo. It's the first time they've won consecutive games since beating the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors on Nov. 21 and 23.

"I'm really proud of the team," DiLeo said, who trailed for three quarters before outscoring Milwaukee, 26-15, in the fourth. "It was a gutsy win. In the fourth quarter, we were much more active, and rotations on defense were much better.

"We got to push the ball a little more. That was more indicative of the way we would like to play."

The cynic would point out that DiLeo's hiring coincided with a four-game stretch in which the Sixers' opponents have combined for only 24 victories.

Still, if the Sixers were a team that had guaranteed victories on its schedule, I'd probably still be writing about Cheeks instead of DiLeo.

"I know Tony is happy to be 2-0," Sixers guard Willie Green said. "I'm happy for him, but more importantly, I'm happy for everybody collectively. These were two good wins for us.

"We scored 100 points against Washington. This one was an ugly game, but we won it. I'll take them."

None of this is taken out of perspective.

The Sixers (11-14) have a long path of recovery from their disappointing start. DiLeo isn't a miracle worker after two games.

But DiLeo does believe in these players. As head of the Sixers' professional and amateur scouting, he played a role in acquiring every one of them.

"Yes," DiLeo emphatically responded when asked whether this team, as constituted, can achieve considerably more. "We saw what we could do last year with our fastbreak style and when we play aggressive defense.

"We added some pieces this year, and we feel those pieces fit into what we want to do and make us a better and deeper team. That's what we are going to strive for on the court." *

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