When the Boomers take on the United States in men’s basketball, one team will be led by a Melbourne-born guard. It’s not who you think.
Matthew Dellavedova had just come off his rookie season in the NBA and had returned to Australia for a national team training camp ahead of the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Returning to the Boomer set-up felt like a familiar comfort compared to the head spin of his first year in the league.
Dellavedova had been a standout at the college level, but was no sure thing for the NBA. He seemed like another case of a good collegiate player who just wasn’t the right fit for the NBA’s athletic style of play. But befitting his grit, Delly had made his way onto a roster with the foundering Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the Cavs, he often found himself matched against the team’s young star, Kyrie Irving. “Getting to guard him in practice every day was a great experience,” Dellavedova said. “It really helped my defence. What he can do with the ball at full speed and change of direction, and then also his finishing at the rim – I haven’t played against that before.”
In many respects, they were a contrast: Dellavedova had four superb years at St Mary’s University, and made it to the NBA at 23 despite having gone undrafted, relying to the hilt on his intangible qualities; Irving was the no.1 pick in the 2011 draft at age 19, a Globetrotter-like dervish who played only 11 (albeit terrific games) for Duke University and its legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski because of injury.
There was one similarity, though – both hailed from the state of Victoria. Irving was born in Melbourne, Dellavedova from regional Maryborough. Irving’s father Drederick had played at the semi-pro level in Australia before taking the family back to New Jersey, where his son grew into one of the best hoops prospects in the United States.
Aware of this lineage, Australia’s basketball masterminds tried to lure Irving a few years back into the Boomers’ fold. The offer had some attraction – Irving was no certainty to play for the US, stuck as he was in a position deep in American talent. Then there were persistent questions about Irving: talented for sure, but a player who lifted his team?
“They’ve got a lot of good guards,” Dellavedova said about Irving’s chances to make the US team in 2014. “But I’d say he’ll make it.”
Two years later, both are NBA champions with the Cavs. Dellavedova has established himself in the league, and emerged as one of the Boomers’ leaders at these Olympics. Irving, meanwhile, is an undeniable NBA star, a walk-up starter for his former college coach Krzyzewski, who is also the US coach. Both are where they were confident they could be – leading their respective countries onto the floor in Rio.