PORTLAND — Dave Leitao might not have the most recognizable name to Maine basketball fans, but they’re about to get to know him pretty well.

Leitao, a 25-year veteran of coaching in NCAA Division I, was introduced Thursday as the new coach of the Maine Red Claws at the Boys and Girls Club.

Leitao compiled a 143-129 record in nine years at Northeastern, DePaul and Virginia, where he was voted the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in 2007.

Leitao will replace Austin Ainge, who led the Red Claws for their first two seasons before taking a position as director of player personnel with the parent Boston Celtics.

“There were a couple of people I was really interested in, and fortunately today I sit next to the No. 1 candidate,” said Jon Jennings, the president and general manager of the Red Claws, with Leitao at his left. “We’re very, very fortunate to have a coach with the caliber, the record and the proven ability to develop basketball players as David Leitao.”

For his part, Leitao (pronouced, “lay-toe”) was thrilled to be here.

“I’m very excited,” said Leitao, a 51-year-old native of New Bedford, Mass. “I cannot wait to get started and absolutely immerse myself into this community.”

This will be Leitao’s first professional coaching job. The Red Claws play in the NBA Development League, a minor league for the NBA, and are affiliated with the Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers.

“I’ve had in-depth conversations with each of our NBA affiliates and I can’t tell you how thrilled they are to have David as our head coach,” said Jennings.

Leitao is considered an outstanding defensive coach and teacher — two traits Jennings was seeking in his new coach.

He learned much of his coaching philosophy from Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. Leitao played for Calhoun at Northeastern as a 6-foot-7 forward, and averaged 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds.

He then joined Calhoun’s staff as an assistant, first at Northeastern, then at UConn. He became Northeastern’s head coach in 1984 but two years later, returned to UConn as an assistant.

“That was an important move in my career,” said Leitao. “The people who were (at UConn) at the time saw me as being a little different. It wasn’t just, ‘Go out and get players, go out and blow the whistle.’ They gave me an opportunity to do administrative work, to be more public, to work with people and go to the State House, to be more than just a basketball person.

“It improved my profile, not just as a coach but as an individual in this industry.”

He was on Calhoun’s staff in 1999 when the Huskies won the national championship. Then he went to DePaul, where he took the Blue Demons to two NIT tournaments and one NCAA appearance. From there, Leitao moved to Virginia, where he became the school’s first black head coach in any sport. He led the Cavaliers to berths in the NIT and NCAA tournament his first two seasons.

But two years later, after a 10-18 season — the second losing record in his career — he was asked to leave and received a $2.1 million buyout.

He has been out of coaching the last two years. He took that time to re-energize himself and his relationship with his family, and to determine whether he wanted to continue coaching — and found out he did.

“My wife (Joyce) and I had many talks about it,” said Leitao. “And the more I tried to walk away, the more it stayed with me and gnawed at me.”

Leitao had the opportunity to coach Rio Grande in the D-League two years ago but didn’t want to uproot his family again. So he declined that offer. Now, while his wife will remain in Virginia Beach, Va., with their three sons — David III (16), Reese (12) and Tyson (8) — they remain close enough to visit. He is also near relatives in the Boston area.

“This is where my roots are, this is where I grew up,” he said.

Having been out of coaching for two years, Leitao is eager to start.

“I look forward to getting back in the gym and teaching,” he said. “I’ve been missing that part of it. Getting back on the court, in the locker room, on the bus, in the airport, and having those relationships (with the players) and helping them develop. … That excites me.

“I can’t wait to be around guys who are willing to learn.”


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