The predictable rise of cult basketball legend Matthew Dellavedova

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I remember where I was the first time I realized I was a big fan of Matthew Dellavedova and his basketball skills. As for most of us Delly Dudes, it intersects at the roads of “the first time you saw him play” and “being a West Coast Conference junkie because you can’t sleep.”

There are a lot of us out there. Not necessarily the DD’s (gotta work hard to make sure this column doesn’t immediately go off the rails), but the folks who have an unabashed love of the West Coast Conference because when you stay up until 2 in the morning routinely, it’s nice to have something to watch.

It started out with Gonzaga. They were the brand name the way Jack Daniels is to whiskey. You start out drinking Jack, then realize that he has all of these other pals in the family and those are worth enjoying too, even though some of them are a little more Black Velvet (Pepperdine) than Johnny Walker Blue (Gonzaga).

The Zags (otherwise known by their actual nickname, the Bulldogs) carried the banner for the league so hard, they mostly just spent time spanking the rest of the league like Florida State football when it first joined the ACC, leading the late night basketball that was at best, “at least something on this late” and at worst, totally vapid.

St. Mary’s rose out of relatively nowhere to challenge the Zags because people don’t necessarily understand how important Gonzaga was to the rest of the league. They were really the only reason the league was getting television scraps that fell off the table, but the upside was, you got to know a bunch of other teams.

St. Mary’s and their Gaels were among those teams, a utopian foil for the Bulldogs. St. Mary’s campus looks like that of many WCC teams, which is, to say, that if you attached famous females to campus locales, the school in Morago would be something along the comparative lines of Carrie Underwood, especially in those NFL on Sunday Night intros.

The first thought when I saw Delly was, “Damn, this guy is gonna be good, and people are going to flat out hate him on his way there.”

Before splashing on the scene at St. Mary’s, a school starved for a name-brand NBA player the way John Stockton was for Gonzaga, Delly was known only to true basketball recruiting junkies who watch international hoops. So basically, no one you know knew who he was.

Delly marries a lot of odd stereotypes together in one human being: the “unathletic by comparison to his counterparts but fundamentally sound” international basketball player; the scrappy guy at your local Y that doesn’t have a ton of talent, but gets the most out of what he has; the reviled guy you can relate to, which gives people an excuse to dislike him because they’re not doing what he is.

But what always has made me a Delly Dude is his leadership, his crusty effort and grit, and that remarkably fluid court vision that offers splashes of Steve Nash in the mind’s eye, more often than anyone is willing to admit. When Delly got the ball, from freshman year to where we are now, you could be assured that the offense would get the hell going, and guys were going to get it in spots where they can do something with it.

And before you go say, “whatever. This dude had no idea,” allow me to be totally self-aggrandizing for a moment. Orlando, next time, go ahead and call me for advice.

Watch Cleveland. For as much as people decry the relative over-iso offense the Cavs have been winning games with, notice that when Delly gets the ball, things move. Guys stop standing around. Guys cut and get to spots because they know Delly can and will find them.

For most people, it was mostly an innocuous line item that was in your local paper in June of 2013. The Orlando Magic had invited Delly to hang out on their summer league roster. I literally stayed up through the entirety of the 2013 draft just to see who would be smart enough to take a flier on Delly, a can’t miss prospect as deemed by myself and maybe his family members only.

No one took him. As good organizations are wont to do, someone picked him up to give him a shot. As bad organizations are wont to do, Orlando (who could really use his grit right now) cast him ashore for Cleveland to scoop him up.


The older you get, the less you root for teams rather than certain guys and certain styles. Delly was one of those guys that makes you believe when you’re just watching him from your couch. When his college career ended in a fateful missed shot only he could have taken to write whatever greatness or finality his college career would hold, he wept into the arms of his teammates in a second-round loss to Memphis.

It goes awfully fast, all of it, everything.

I got up, raised a glass full of cheap beer at the restaurant I was at  and clapped like the guy that stands up in church when the preacher says something and gives a good, hearty “Amen!” when no one else remotely thinks that’s a good idea or even socially acceptable at the moment.

But I’d assume all of Delly’s Dudes did the same. The Delly-led Gaels were always a buck short and misplacing their wallets the one day when the alarm became unplugged and they slept through get-up time.

They were never able to land the kill shot that would have put a dent in Gonzaga’s seemingly endless run of WCC domination for all the body blows they landed, though they did snare the conference tournament crown in 2010 and 2012. Delly and friends never had that deep, magical NCAA tournament run that gains certain guys a cult following regardless of what they go on to do afterwards.

The iconoclastic Dellavedova was always going to be a success in the NBA because someone, somewhere, would find him. If you can play, you generally get found by who’s supposed to find you.

So there was no surprise when I turned on sports talk radio in the morning and national shows are debating Delly, and, of all things, “dirty play.”


Folks today have no idea what “dirty play” is, and it often is mistaken for regular basketball as it was played years ago (you know, when us old people walked to school uphill both ways, and it was snowing all year round). Delly simply plays hard, a throwback of sorts.

“Dirty play” is a punch to the unmentionables when you’re going up for a rebound, a flat hand to those same unmentionables when going up for a jumper, or getting kicked in the Achilles when going up for a board. Actually, a lot of that’s gamesmanship too, to be honest. Not the Achilles thing, but basketball isn’t chess.

Delly’s not a guy who is going to be a point guard who pounds the ball for 20 seconds while the dying art of moving without the ball continues to die a slow, painful death at all levels of basketball. Delly is like the ether you spray into your lawnmower engine when the son-of-a-gun won’t turn over.

Predictably, folks don’t like it. Times were, when guys came down the lane, you could pop them and discourage them from doing it again. Today, it’s a 10-minute review, some sort of flagrant foul, and then some additional review later on after the game in case they want to say it was the right or wrong call.

Delly doesn’t care for your soft, pillow fight basketball. The guy’s going to scrap for the ball like he’s flat out starving, and then distribute it to the right guy. There’s a little Delly in all of us, whether we want to admit it or not… or at least, there should be.

The inexorable march of time means that the college stars that show up on our radar at 1 a.m. eventually move on. Some of them attain the status of NBA players, but most college cult figures like Delly move to reasonably good jobs or mostly un-special and short-lived pro careers.

These are guys like Harold “The Show” Arceneaux; Bryce Drew; Scottie Reynolds; God Shammgod; Kevin Pittsnogle; Derek Raivio; and Matthew Dellavedova. The list really could go on forever. Someone should probably make one.

Delly was always too good to fade away, and now, it’s not just a WCC pelt he’s looking to hang on the wall. Where other people see Lebron James, Kyrie Irving held together by duck tape, and a few walking stiffs … some of us see a diamond in the roughest of roughs on the Cavs, one that’s left a deeply positive impression on James: a little-known point guard with a funky accent that probably wrestles kangaroos in his home just for fun.

The inexorable march of time also means that you can’t really stay up til 1 a.m. watching basketball anymore. Sure is nice to not have to do that now.

Times were, there weren’t all that many Delly’s Dudes. Now, there are a bunch. Water always finds its level, and sometimes, the level is greatness.