It was early November in 2009 and Saint Mary’s had come off a second consecutive 25-win season, had been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the NIT, and saw quite a bit of firepower leave campus.
Diamon Simpson, the school’s all-time leader in rebounds, steals, and blocks, had graduated. Aussie imports Carlin Hughes and Lucas Walker were also gone.
The most notable departure was Patty Mills, who had single-handedly put Saint Mary’s on the national map with his electric play, and he entered the NBA Draft following his sophomore season.
Three starters were gone from a team that had gone deep into the postseason. This was a team that had reached consecutive postseasons for the first time in school history.
There was going to be a transition period.
Mickey McConnell, who had stepped in late in the conference season for Mills when he went down with an injury against Gonzaga, returned and was the man to run the point. The ever-colorful Omar Samhan also returned and there were questions about whether he could handle the pressure of being “the guy.”
When the Gaels took the floor for their season opener at McKeon Pavilion on Nov. 13, 2009 against New Mexico State, they started Mickey McConnell, Omar Samhan, Wayne Hunter, Ben Allen, and this new guy.
This skinny freshman guard had a bit of hype around him. As had become synonymous with Saint Mary’s basketball, he came from Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport. He wore a jersey that looked two sizes too big, had shaggy brown hair, and this blue and white mouth guard that looked absolutely ridiculous.
I was sitting in the stands watching this new guy wondering how good he could be. It was early in the first half and he whipped a no-look pass from the top of the key down to a cutting teammate for a layup.
The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Wow,” and I thought to myself, “This kid is going to be good.”
Little did I know exactly how good. He scored 19 points and had four assists in his first game.
That court vision and, of course, the mouth guard quickly became his trademark.
The player was Matthew Dellavedova.
Coaches around the WCC can’t help but recognize his importance to Saint Mary’s and the skill he brings.
“You have to give [Dellavedova] a bunch of different looks,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “He’s such a smart basketball player.”
Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating had even higher praise of the Aussie guard.
“He’s the most important player in that program from day one and he’s proven that from day one. He makes their whole deal go,” Keating said.
Dellavedova’s name is all over the Saint Mary’s record book.
He is the school’s all-time leader in assists. He is sitting at third in all-time steals, first in made three-pointers. He is the program’s best free throw shooter.
Entering Saturday’s game against Santa Clara, Dellavedova will be only four points away from breaking the school’s all-time scoring record set by fellow Aussie Daniel Kickert (2002-06).
He has been to the Olympics with the Australian National Team and been named WCC Player of the Year.
It hasn’t just been the individual achievements but the team’s.
Dellavedova has been to the NCAA Tournament twice, been to the Sweet Sixteen, and has won two WCC conference titles. Saint Mary’s has won 105 games in his four seasons, more than anyone in the team’s history.
Four years later and on the eve of what is likely his final game in McKeon Pavilion, the moment has not been lost on Dellavedova.
“It’s been on my mind a bit lately,” he said. “Probably a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been counting down the home games because it’s been awesome playing here and I think as a group of seniors, we’re just trying to make the most of it because we know we’re in a special situation.”
If the Gaels make the NCAA Tournament, Saturday will be Dellavedova’s final home game with history at stake and against their oldest rival standing in the way.
There is no better way for it to end.