It was just before halftime during a home game against Santa Clara in 2011 when St. Mary's guard Matthew Dellavedova's knees collided with a Bronco's. As a hush fell over the crowd, the 6-foot-4 sophomore from Australia was hustled out of sight and into a training room. When the Gaels came out for warmups, there was no Delly. As the minutes ticked down on the break, still no Delly. With just seconds to go before the half, the mop-topped player finally came jogging out on the floor -- to a loud ovation. Though Dellavedova called the attention "embarrassing", his coach, Randy Bennett, loved it. "It was like Willis Reed coming out to save the Knicks," recalls Bennett. "It was nice to see that everybody else appreciated him the way I do."
There's much to appreciate about the fuzzy-faced point guard with the persistent bed-head, a two-time Cousy award finalist and the reigning West Coast Conference player of the year who is entering the home stretch of his college career on the tiny campus east of Oakland. There is the easily quantifiable stuff, such as his 15.9 points and 6.6 assists a game and his 89 percent free-throw shooting, all best on the team. Dellavedova will depart St. Mary's this spring with the school's career assists record (710 and counting); the career three-pointer record (262 and counting), and most likely, the career scoring record: With six regular season games to go, Dellavedova trails fellow Aussie Daniel Kickert's record of 1,874 by 97 points. And lest we forget, Dellavedova was responsible for one of the best buzzer beaters in a season full of them. After BYU went up 69-67 with 2.5 seconds a left in a Jan. 16 game in Provo, Dellavedova took the a 30-foot inbounds pass, dribbled once to cross the halfcourt line and launched a 40 footer that swished through the net as the final second elapsed.
But what really stands out about Dellavedova are things that will never show up in a box score or on YouTube. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has called Dellavedova a "maestro" with ball screens because he is so adept at reading defenses. But he may be even better at reading his teammates. Three times a year Bennett distributes a questionnaire asking his players to rate the leadership qualities of their teammates in areas like work ethic, mental toughness, ability to unify the team and willingness to confront teammates. According to junior forward Beau Levesque, Dellavedova consistently tops every category. "He is the highest ever," says Bennett. "He has figured out that this leadership thing is really important. He understands, if I'm a little better leader, that will make us a little better team."
A few years ago Dellavedova, a psychology major and an avid reader, read an article that noted that some of the best players in the NBA, including his childhood hero, Steve Nash, were also the best at distributing fist bumps and pats on the back to teammates. Since then Dellavdova has made constant contact and positive reinforcement such a priority that Portland coach Eric Reveno has said the Gaels remind him of a women's volleyball team, touching hands even after failed plays.
"You watch us play; there's never a dead-ball or free throw situation where he doesn't get the whole team in the huddle to let us know what play we're going to run next, or to compliment somebody on something, or to tell somebody something they can do better," says Levesque. "He's always lifting the team up; he's really a coach on the floor."
A stint at the Olympic Games in London, where he played alongside former Gael Patty Mills as Australia's starting point guard (he averaged 7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists through the quarterfinals, where the Boomers were ousted by the USA) enhanced Dellavedova's composure, patience and confidence. "It's almost impossible to get under his skin now," says Levesque. "His leadership has always been good, but it's even more elevated now."
"Playing against men who knew how to play the game and were stronger and faster has helped me in a lot of ways," says Dellavedova. "Our team was really close, too; it was fun to play with a group that had great chemistry and where everyone played hard."
Dellavedova's parents, Leanne and Mark, say their son, who was often voted captain of his sports teams, has always been a people person. "Whenever we went on holiday, he made friends with somebody," says Leanne. Dellavedova played a number of sports, such as tennis, soccer, and footie (Aussie rules football) before he narrowed his focus to hoops. Growing up in Maryborough, Victoria, a small town a two-hour drive northwest from Melbourne, he practiced his game in the house his parents allowed him to dribble on the tile floor -- or on a hoop above a patch of grass in the backyard. Over the years, his repeated shot from the foul line distance wore footprints in the grass and a bald spot, where he routinely bounced the ball four times before each free throw, in front of that.
At 16, Dellavedova entered the Australian Institute of Sport outside Canberra, a training center for the country's most promising athletes. Two and half years later, he followed a well-worn path from the AIS to St. Mary's, where he, along with countrymen Jorden Page and Mitchell Young, became the 8th, 9th and 10th Australians to play for Bennett.
This year's team (21-4, 10-1 WCC), like most Bennett squads, is efficient on offense and committed to making the extra pass. And while it isn't yet as good defensively as last year's team, which won the West Coast Conference outright for the first time since 1989, it is second in the nation in points per possession (1.18), according to statsheet.com, and among the nation's top 15 in three other categories: points per game (14th, 77.8, 14th), field goal percentage (.493, 9th) and rebound margin (9.4, tied for 3rd.) "We don't look like a team that would rank that high in that," says Bennett. "We're not big, we're not super athletic, we don't have anybody who averages more than six rebounds a game. But our guys have bought into the idea that we have to be good in that area, as a group. This is our first team in a while where we probably don't have three all-conference players. But they have been able, as a group, to find a way to get it done."
Dellavedova says he has some goals for his remaining time at St. Mary's, and getting the school scoring record is not among them. But winning another conference title and staying undefeated at home are. Standing in the way of those goals is fifth-ranked and undefeated (in conference) Gonzaga, possibly Few's best squad yet, which visits McKeon Pavilion Thursday night. (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
"I'd be lying if I said it was just another game," says Dellavedova. "They've been our biggest rivals since I got here, and they beat us by five up there last month. We need to win this to keep the conference race alive."
Beyond conference and conference tournament titles, Dellavedova wants to play deep into March, but not just because he wants to exceed St. Mary's best NCAA finish, the Sweet 16 in 2010. "I think we have a really good team that is continuing to improve, but is also a lot of fun to be on because everyone is trying to play harder than the next guy," he says. "On a team like that nobody wants to see the season end."