DENVER - These were the late 1970s, and Paul Westhead, the La Salle University coach, was teaching his players the art and value of psycho-cybernetics, which essentially meant visualizing things before you did them.

Westhead saw it as valuable for shooters, from the floor and the foul line.

See the rim, see the rotation of the ball, feel the rhythm of the shot before you start the process.

Tony DiLeo, a transfer from Tennessee Tech, was one of Westhead's players.

"In college, I was really into sports psychology," said DiLeo, who will coach the 76ers tonight against the Nuggets, his sixth game since succeeding the fired Maurice Cheeks. "I read a lot of books. I gave coach Westhead the book on psycho-cybernetics. He has never returned it. I asked him for it one time, and he said he had made notes all over it and that he couldn't give it back."

DiLeo was a "student" in the full sense of the word. He was into far more than the book written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a cosmetic surgeon who believed his concepts would help his patients who, after surgery, said they could not see a discernible difference in themselves.

DiLeo hit all the other books hard, too. As an accounting major, he graduated magna cum laude from the school of business, earning straight As up until his very last final examination, when he had to settle for a B.

"I was disappointed, but I got into a trap, because I wanted to keep up my record," he said after practice last week. "If I had gotten a B early on, it would have been OK and there would have been more B's along the way."

DiLeo acknowledges he was the kid who always asked why.

"I wanted to know why we were doing things," he said. "I always knew I wanted to coach. I also wanted to play as long as I could, and that's why I went to Germany."

In West Germany, he first was a player, then was a coach for both men's and women's teams. He won nine championships from 1979 to '90, was the national team coach from 1981 to '85, and was the coach of the year in 1987. His women's team in Dusseldorf is in the German Guinness Book of Records for the most consecutive league victories.

He is in his 19th season in the Sixers organization, having served in virtually every possible front-office and coaching role.

"He was really smart on and off the floor," recalled Niagara University coach Joe Mihalich, a La Salle teammate. "He was an incredible student of the game. He worked his butt off. He was deep, pensive, a great teammate. I used to ask him, 'Why are you studying accounting? You're not going to be an accountant.'

"You knew he was always going to be involved in basketball. He lived, ate, breathed it. I don't know when he studied. If he wasn't playing the game, he was thinking about the game. I'm so happy to see him coaching. He's been behind the scenes, he's been a great administrator, a talent finder, who is involved in player development. When you think about [DiLeo's current status], it makes a lot of sense."

This was Feb. 2, 1977. This was La Salle-Villanova, a City Series classic unfolding in the Palestra.

The Explorers were down, 70-69, when Donn Wilbur missed a jump shot. The Wildcats' Larry Herron rebounded the ball and was immediately tied up by Tony DiLeo. There would be a jump ball at the foul line. Herron held an 8-inch height advantage.

"I remember the moment," DiLeo said, smiling. "There was a timeout. I told the players that I was just going to go up and knock [Herron's] arm as hard as I could, going for the ball, so he couldn't control the tip."

Which is exactly what DiLeo did. Herron won the tap, but the ball was loose, going toward midcourt. La Salle's Darryl Gladden and Villanova's Joe Rogers scrambled for it. Somewhere in there, Rogers was called for a foul.

Gladden was at the line for a one-and-one with 1 second on the clock.

"Gladden came over and said, 'Open or closed?' '' Westhead recalled, pointing out that, in the world of psycho-cybernetics, he sometimes had his players take foul shots and layups with their eyes closed in practice.

"Open," Westhead said.

Gladden made both shots.

La Salle 71, Villanova 70.

DiLeo walked away with eight points, five rebounds and five assists.

And what he now refers to as "a moment.' "

"Tony always seemed to be analyzing and studying as he played," Westhead said. "He was calculating, figuring things out, trying to look ahead at what would happen. He has a basketball mind. He was serious about practice, serious about playing the games. There was nothing frivolous about his approach. He was also out there shooting or working on something. He wanted to know why things were the way they were."

When Sixers president/general manager Ed Stefanski decided to make a coaching change, the team was 9-14 and foundering. He could have gone with someone with NBA coaching experience. He decided he preferred a fresh approach, someone who fully embraced management's philosophy. He decided on DiLeo, the organization's senior vice president of basketball operations/assistant general manager.

DiLeo was an assistant to several previous Sixers coaches, but had not been a head coach since his time in Germany.

"Accounting for me was kind of dry and boring," DiLeo said. "I liked the management courses, how to delegate, organize, set up a plan. Those are the courses I applied to coaching."

But, he acknowledged, "I don't think anything could prepare you for this. You just have to go with whatever experience you have, and try and make it work." *

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