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Tony DiLeo, '78, produces "European Basketball Handbook" from experience.

Posted on Tue, Oct. 10, 2006

DiLeo has had a world of experience


COLOGNE, Germany - Tony DiLeo wrote the book on international basketball. The kind of book he knew could be vital to young Americans who had no clue what to expect, but who wanted to play overseas.

With help from his older brother Frank, who had already played two seasons in West Germany after a career at Lafayette, the DiLeos produced the "European Basketball Handbook," a basic, everything-you-need-to-know guide.

"Information about insurance, differences in electricity, passports, types of contracts," Tony said as the 76ers prepared to face the Phoenix Suns tonight as part of the "NBA Europe Live" tour. "We included contact numbers for the various federations, for the club teams, that kind of thing."

Tony didn't realize that when he first went to West Germany, intending to play, he'd begin climbing a ladder that eventually would land him in the 76ers' front office. Now in his 17th season with the team, he's the senior vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager, in effect second in command to president/general manager Billy King.

He has done virtually everything there is to do with the Sixers in basketball operations, including several stints as an assistant coach. Now, he helps oversee and coordinate everything behind the scenes, including the draft.

He knows this season could be harder than anything else he has tried. No one is casting write-in ballots for the Sixers to win an NBA championship any time soon. The cynics wonder whether they can even match the 38 victories of last season. The most severe critics wonder whether they are likely to be in the sweepstakes for Greg Oden, the high school player viewed as a likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

"We're out to win, to prove that we can," Tony insisted. "We realize we have to prove it on the court. We know people are taking a wait-and-see attitude. We have Allen [Iverson] and Chris [Webber] and the other players who are 1 year older, 1 year more mature."

The climb is never easy. No one in the organization is exactly thrilled with Thursday night's exhibition loss to Winterthur FC Barcelona, but no one is overreacting, either.

"We missed 22 free throws; we had practiced for 5 days, they had been together for 2 months," DiLeo said.

It's training camp. Preseason is just under way. In all 30 camps, there's still a chance to be Cinderella. Reality can wait.

All young Tony DiLeo wanted to do was extend his playing days. He starred at Cinnaminson (N.J.) High, spent two seasons at Tennessee Tech, then transferred to La Salle, where he emerged as a first-team academic All-America guard, graduating maxima cum laude from the School of Business. The plan was to play a summer in the Baker League, then go to West Germany to play.

There was a brief delay when he broke his ankle during the summer. As he recovered and rehabbed, he helped Lefty Ervin coach the La Salle High boys team.

When it was time to resume playing, there was an added attraction.

"There was an opening for a women's coach in Düsseldorf," he said. "I only wanted to stay 1 year, get the experience. I ended up staying 11 years."

He coached the women and played several seasons in the country's second division. He said what men coaching women for the first time often say.

"They depend on fundamentals, teamwork, execution," he said. "Sometimes with men, athletic ability takes over."

His memory suggests that the level of play at the time was roughly equivalent to NCAA Division II, but the willingness to develop was clearly apparent.

"They were hungry to learn," he said.

In Düsseldorf, he took the women to seven consecutive national championships. He and his team are in the German Guinness Book of World Records for the most consecutive league games without a loss. Twice, they went to the European championship game, at one point upsetting a Russian team that had gone 18 years without a loss in the competition.

That led to a job coaching the the women's club team in Cologne, then the men's team. After coaching West Germany's women's national team for 6 years, there was an opportunity to coach the men's national team. But by then he was working for the Sixers.

"Harold Katz [then the owner] wouldn't let me," Tony recalled. "I was trying to explain that this would be good for [seeing] international players. He said no."

One of his players in Cologne, a crafty - but at the time overmatched - guard named Stefan Beck, had a tryout with the Sixers.

"Now, he's the general manager," Tony said proudly.

Time flies.

Or, if you don't win, it runs out.