In three standout seasons as starting point guard for Saint Mary's, reigning WCC player of the year Matthew Dellavedova has proven he can thrive against some of the best guards in college basketball.
This summer, he showed he can also handle a step up in competition.
Not only was Dellavedova one of only two current college players who competed at the Olympics, he also won the starting point guard role for the Australian national team. Dellavedova logged 26 or more minutes in all six games he played and averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 assists, helping the Aussies win their final three games of pool play and reach the quarterfinals.
Falling short of a medal was a disappointment for Dellavedova, but he still calls the Olympics the best experience of his life. He chatted with me this week about his favorite memories of London, what it was like playing Team USA and how the experience will help him entering his senior season at Saint Mary's.
JE: I know you were very excited for the Olympics prior to leaving for London. Did the experience live up to your expectations?
MD: It has always been a dream and a goal of mine to play in the Olympics since I was a kid. I didn't really know what to expect, but it definitely exceeded any expectations I could have had. It was the best experience of my life And to do it with a bunch of unbelievable guys made it even better.
JE: When did it become a realistic goal for you to make the Australian team for London?
MD: I played a bit in 2009 with national team. That was my first experience. I got cut in 2010 for the World Championships. Last year, I played with the team. We had a test event in London. That's probably when I started to think it was realistic and I had a decent chance to make it.
JE: As good as the experience was in London, I bet it was almost as special just finding out that you made the team. How good a feeling was that?
MD: I was probably more in shock than anything. I thought I had a decent chance, but to actually have the coaches call up and say, 'Yeah, you made it, you're going,' it didn't know what to feel. I was just shocked and excited.
JE: Did you know in advance the coaches were going to inform you that day whether you made it or not?
MD: We got an email the day before that we were going to get a call between a certain time. So you're sitting by the phone and anytime it rings you jump up and see who it is. I was probably lucky I didn't check my email until that morning, so I didn't know it was going to happen until a few hours before. I didn't have to sleep on it, which was fortunate for me because otherwise I don't think I'd have been able to sleep at all.
JE: Was there a certain point, either in London or beforehand, where you realized that you could hold your own against that caliber of competition?
MD: The year before we played the test event in London and we had some practice games against Spain. I did alright in that tournament and I played well against Spain, so that gave me confidence that carried through. I built the confidence that I could do my job for the team in London.
JE: What are some of your favorite memories from the Olympics both on and off the court?
MD: When Patty Mills hit that shot to beat Russia, that was pretty awesome. And when we came back against Great Britain, to beat them on their home court was pretty special. Then off the court, the opening ceremony. To walk out into the Olympic stadium, that was really special. And I got to see Usain Bolt run the 200 in person. That was pretty awesome as well.
JE: Did it detract from your experience at all that you guys lost in the quarterfinals and didn't have a chance to play for a medal?
MD: Our goal was to win a medal and we didn't do that. I guess it really came down to that game against Brazil, which we lost by four points. If we won that, it would have been a different tournament. We would have crossed over against somebody else other than the U.S. in the quarterfinals. But we played hard, we played together. It was an awesome bunch of guys to play with and a great coaching staff to play for as well.
JE: What did you gain basketball-wise from the Olympic experience? Where are you a better player now than before after going up against some of the world's best players?
MD: There's not one area I could really point to. I think overall it's just getting used to playing more physically against people who are more athletic, longer and pretty clever players. My knowledge of the game improves when I play internationally against players who have been playing a long time. There are certain things you pick up. In all areas overall, it should help me have a good year this year.
JE: Since you've been back on campus, what's the question you hear most frequently about the Olympics?
MD: <laughs> People ask what it was like to guard Kobe.
JE: I should have known. But I'm guessing you weren't in awe of him and you didn't think about it like that during your game against Team USA?
MD: You can't afford to. Our goal is to go out and beat those guys, so you don't think about it in that way. We had it to two or three in the third quarter, so we gave ourselves a chance.
JE: Looking ahead to your senior season at Saint Mary's, you guys graduated Rob Jones and Clint Steindl but there's some good young talent around you once again. Evaluate next year's team. How good can you be?
MD: I think we have a lot of good players again. That's going to make everyone better. It will make open gyms and practices a lot more competitive. Steve Holt is looking good. I think he'll have another good year. Mitchell Young is healthy now, so I think he'll be even more valuable for us as well.
JE: You beat out Gonzaga for the league title last season. Is the goal to build on that now and perhaps have a little bit more success in March?
MD: Definitely that's a goal. We know how hard we had to work last year to do that and it's definitely going to be tough again. But that's definitely the goal. Everyone's working hard and getting better right now to make sure we give ourselves the best chance to win the league again.