Joined at the Hoop: Tony and T.J. DiLeo share special Philadelphia basketball bond
Tony DiLeo's job as the general manager of the 76ers doesn't provide much free time. His oldest son, T.J., is busy in his own right, playing Division I basketball at Temple while pursuing a master's degree in marketing.
But the DiLeos still find plenty of time to talk hoops.
"We're a basketball family," Tony says.
Despite a schedule littered with practices, games and travel, Tony makes it to as many Temple games as possible. Fifteen or 20 minutes after the final buzzer, he will meet his son on the side of the court and offer pointers. Even after the games Tony is forced to view on TV or tape and watch later, T.J. will invariably get calls with some helpful tips.
Maybe there was an instance in which he could have driven to the lane and dished off. Or a few times he passed up an open jumper. Whatever the case, T.J. has been privy to top-notch fatherly coaching for years.
"Sometimes you have to watch it back on film before you see stuff. But after the games, some of the stuff he'll tell me. I'll be like, 'Yeah, I definitely could have done that. It definitely would have helped,' "
T.J. says. "He really knows a lot . . . He definitely has a mind for the game."
"I just try to give him pointers, the things that I see," Tony says. "Sometimes if we tape the game at home, then we'll just look at it and [I'll] show him different situations where maybe he could have moved to an open spot or maybe gotten a shot or made a pass. Just so that he can see it and then maybe next time it'll work."
Tony DiLeo is a basketball lifer who worked his way up through the Sixers' front office for 2 decades. His job in the organization - and all the practices, games and basketball talk that came with it - certainly played at least a part in shaping his son's love of the game. T.J's mother, Anna, remembers her son, at the mere age of 5 or 6, drawing up plays to show his dad.
"He's been around basketball his whole life," says Tony, adding that T.J. grew up in a coaching environment. "That's the way he plays right now. He's not really interested in stats or anything like that. He's just interested in being a winning player and trying to help the team win any way he can. I think that comes from growing up in a family with a lot of basketball - he's learning a lot, he's talking to other coaches, other players. He's really like a coach's son."
Though he doesn't fill up a box score, T.J. is a key player on a talented Temple team with high aspirations. He is one of the first players Fran Dunphy brings off the bench. Almost like a coach by extension on the floor, the 6-3 point guard is relied on for his defense - Dunphy recently called him the Owls' best perimeter defender - and making smart decisions with the ball. He has the ability to score - he put up a Cinnaminson High School-record 50 points (with nine three-pointers) in a game during his senior year - but mostly looks to set up his teammates.
He typically defends the opposing team's best player and actually started the Owls' Jan. 26 loss at Butler, assigned to deal with sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke. However, just 3 minutes in, T.J. was forced to leave the game with a sprained ankle.
"His defense really blossomed through Dunphy," says Mike Fries, T.J.'s coach at Cinnaminson High. "And that's his main goal out there . . . to play defense, and he plays some of the best offensive players on the other teams. I think he just lets the game come to him and then when he sees that the team needs him to step up, the other guys aren't making their shots, that's when he shoots the basketball."
Those who know T.J. say that it's evident he grew up around the game and that he didn't take long to adapt to the collegiate level. Lavoy Allen, who played three seasons with T.J. at Temple and now plays for the Sixers, remembers T.J's Temple debut in 2008, an Owls loss to Clemson, when the then-freshman stepped up and defended the Tigers' best shooter.
"He's a real solid player," Allen says. "He does the things that he knows he can do. He doesn't really try to do anything out of his game. Great teammate, always positive with his teammates. I don't think there's one negative thing you can say about him on or off the court."
Cinnaminson has always been home base for the DiLeos. Tony grew up there and fondly remembers watching Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Luke Jackson and Chet Walker play at Convention Hall. After starring at Cinnaminson High, Tony started his collegiate career at Tennessee Tech before transferring back home to La Salle. Following graduation, he embarked on a 10-year stint playing and coaching in West Germany, where he met his wife. Since joining the Sixers in 1990, he has held numerous positions. He has been the team's director of player personnel, the senior vice president of basketball operations and even the head coach for 65 games. Is there a position he hasn't occupied?
"Owner," he offers before laughing. "Which makes my job as GM a lot better because I've been in almost every position, so I understand what those people are going through. It helps me manage those departments and those people better."
One would be hard-pressed to find many others who have both acted as a head coach and a general manager for an NBA team. T.J. remembers that very unexpected moment, on Dec. 13, 2008, when he found out his father was taking over for Maurice Cheeks. It was his redshirt freshman season at Temple and the Owls were in the midst of an upset over eighth-ranked Tennessee at the Liacouras Center. The news of Cheeks' firing broke sometime during the game, so T.J. didn't learn of his father's new role until a member of Temple's training staff alerted him.
"People were yelling to me. I didn't know what was going on," T.J. says. "It was pretty cool. I was happy for him. I didn't expect that at all."
After leading the Sixers to a 32-27 record and a playoff berth, Tony decided to return to his role in the front office. He continued to work his way up and was promoted to GM last Sept. 21.
"He loves that organization," T.J. says. "He's a part of it. He lives and breathes it. I know it was real special for him to get the GM spot. I know we're very proud of him as a family."
Basketball has always been a huge part of the DiLeo family. Tony's father, Lew DiLeo, ran a South Jersey summer league for years. Tony's wife played competitively in Germany. Max, the DiLeos' younger son, is a sophomore guard at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. The family also tries to attend or watch as many of his games as possible.
"My wife and I were retired," Lew DiLeo says with a smile. "But we're unretired because we're busier now following everybody's activities and all that."
Through all the family's basketball ties, T.J. has formed a solid networking base throughout the Philadelphia basketball community. He grew up attending countless Sixers games and the occasional practice and has gotten to meet a bevy of talented players and coaches along the way.
During the 2008-09 season, when Tony was coaching the Sixers, he brought T.J. to practice to chat with Andre Miller, the cerebral veteran point guard then playing what would be his final season in Philadelphia. Miller, not known as the most verbose of NBA players, talked nonstop with T.J. to the point that Tony had to break up the conversation so the Sixers could start practice.
Being the son of the Sixers' GM certainly comes with its benefits. But does it entail getting inside information? Not necessarily. "People think he gives me more than he really gives me," T.J. says.
When it comes to personnel decisions, Tony keeps everything pretty close to the vest. That doesn't stop T.J.'s friends from asking him for the latest scoops. T.J., who admits he learned of this past summer's Andrew Bynum blockbuster "maybe a couple hours" before it became official to the public, doesn't bug his dad for info, either.
He gets his fair share of basketball knowledge after his games as it is.