It was just a little more than 20 months ago that Baker Dunleavy stood with Villanova coaches and players on a makeshift stage in front of almost 75,000 at NRG Stadium in Houston, being showered with confetti while celebrating the Wildcats' national championship.
Monday night, Dunleavy walked the sideline in front of the Quinnipiac bench at the Daskelakis Athletic Center before 652 people in the 11th game of his first season as a head coach, watching his players grind and hustle but come up just short in a 72-71 loss to Drexel.
After seven seasons on Jay Wright's staff, the last four as associate head coach, Dunleavy, 34, is in charge of his own program. He has gone from the spotlight that follows a perennial national-championship contender to the Bobcats, a mid-major from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference that went 10-21 last season and saw its two top scorers transfer.
However, he likes that his undermanned team (3-8) is receptive to improvement and change. He's got plenty of experiences from his time at Villanova, counting his four seasons as a player, from which to draw.
"Just like at Villanova, we talk about attitude all the time and how we respond to adversity," Dunleavy said after the game. "Eventually, it's going to break for us. I really believe that because we have a good enough group. We've got the guys who believe in it. Right now, we're earning it.
"The results may come next year, they may come two years down the line, but they may come next week. We just don't know what's going to break for us, but we're not going to stop working. I can tell by looking at our guys' eyes in the locker room that they're not quitting."
It's attitude plus other core values of Wright's program – such as playing hard, together and with pride – that Dunleavy has brought with him to Hamden, Conn.
"If every decision you make corresponds with your core values, it makes decisions a lot easier," he said. "And it's about the players, the relationship with your players, not necessarily always agreeing and being friends, but you can build a trust, push your players.
"I think (Wright) is the best communicator I've ever been around in terms of getting his message across but, even moreso, listening. So I've tried to be that the best I can."
One of his players, junior forward Abdulai Bundu, who was born in Sierra Leone and took up basketball fairly recently, said he appreciates Dunleavy's approach.
"I've only been in this for about six years so far," he said, "but just the fact that I have someone that is willing to take time out and break it all down to you one-on-one, teach you as a group, teach you individually, I'm really grateful to have him as a head coach."
Dunleavy said he benefits from the experience of his associate head coach, Tom Pecora, who coached with Wright at Hofstra. He has received support from the coaching community and credited his brother-in-law, Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby, with being "a great resource."
Dunleavy says he texts with Wright all the time, but his coach wasn't present Monday night at the DAC.
"I purposely didn't talk to him before this game because I didn't want him to feel obligated – I know they're off; he's got his radio show – to come down," he said. "But we don't have to talk. Everything that I've learned there as a student-athlete and as a coach is ingrained in me."
Quinnipiac's last inbounds play Monday night was a product of Dunleavy's time on the Main Line. Down a point with 2.1 seconds left, the Bobcats threw an inbounds pass to the opposite free-throw circle. The ball immediately went to Rich Kelly on the left wing, but Kelly's three-point try went off the rim.
"At the end there, yeah, we did kind of pull that from Villanova," Dunleavy said.
"We have a young group. We're learning. We made a lot of plays at the end. We were just one play short. Our guys battled, an eight-man rotation, foul trouble, playing to exhaustion. So I couldn't be more proud of the way our guys handled ourselves."