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Jan. 22, 2010
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Seth Greenberg calls it a "feel" for basketball - knowing how to play and making the right decisions on shooting and passing.
To Malcolm Delaney, it's a determined toughness and a lot of heart, honed on the outdoor basketball courts of Baltimore.
Their definitions may vary slightly, but both are talking about the same thing - the "city game," a term first made popular in a book by that title written by the late Pete Axthelm in 1970.
It's something Greenberg looks for in certain of his Virginia Tech players and manifests in Delaney, a junior guard who is one of the ACC's best players. Delaney is the top scorer in the league at 19.9 points per game. In three ACC contests, he's averaging 25.7.
"There are guys that just have a feel of how to make plays," Greenberg said. "They see plays before they happen, make good decisions, understand the game and have high basketball IQ."
From Delaney's perspective, that "feel" was developed in the competitive games in his hometown. He said players from Baltimore often feel they don't get a lot of respect compared to, say, those from New York. That shows up in the toughness and heart he mentioned.
"Speaking for myself, that's how it's been all my life, overlooked in a lot of situations," Delaney said. "Even though I've been a good player I haven't really been looked at as one of the best players. So I play with that chip on my shoulder.
"I think I'm better than any guard, so I carry myself that way on the court. When there's a guard that they say is better than me, I take it upon myself to prove that I'm the better player and help my team win that game."
Baltimore has a long history of developing outstanding basketball players, going back to the likes of ex-Wake Forest star Muggsy Bogues and ex-Florida State standout Sam Cassell, both of whom had lengthy NBA careers.
More recent Baltimore products include Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, Joey Dorsey of the Houston Rockets, and collegians Jack McClinton of Miami, Marcus Hatton of St. John's and Gerald Brown of Loyola of Maryland.
Delaney, who began playing when he was 5, grew up watching and playing with many of them. But many of his lessons were taught by his brother Vincent, who is four years older.
"We had a basketball court out back and a lot of my friends in the neighborhood came over every day," Delaney said. "And I mean every day. If it was snowing we were out back playing basketball. When we got out of school we'd drop our books off and go straight out there and play. I learned the game playing outside."
His brother was much bigger and stronger and went on to play football at Stonehill, a Division III school. Delaney figures it took him until about the eighth grade to finally be able to beat him.
Delaney's father, also named Vincent, played at Voorhees, a small school in South Carolina, and coached AAU basketball. Malcolm only played for him one year and he basically taught himself the finer points of the game, including shooting.
"I worked on my form by myself," Delaney said. "Nobody taught me how to shoot the proper way. I studied the game a lot, watched a lot of NBA and when I was small I used to try to model my game after certain people.
"I always wanted to have the perfect form, so I watched good shooters (Reggie Miller and Ray Allen were two) and how they shot the ball and started working with that. When you get a good form, the shots just start falling. I kept practicing and practicing and putting work in and that's where my shot came from."
After his career at Towson Catholic High School, Delaney sorted his offers and chose Virginia Tech over Memphis, Iowa State and Indiana. He knew the Hokies had graduated two guards and there was playing time up for grabs as a freshman.
Delaney earned a job in the starting lineup for the final 24 games, averaging 9.6 points for the season. Last year that figure jumped to 18.1.
One thing he had to learn right away, with established scorers like A.D. Vassallo and Deron Washington around, was how to play point guard. That's where many of the minutes were available.
"It made me a lot better because I came into the league playing against Sean Singletary, Jack McClinton, Ty Lawson - the ACC as far as guards was crazy my freshman year," he said. "It made me learn real fast how high school is a lot different from college and what I needed to do to work on my game going into the next year. Being that I held my own against those guys, it gave me a lot of confidence."
Greenberg still considers Delaney a "hybrid guard" who can play both positions. That's fine with Delaney, who says he understands he's needed to run the point. He spent the summer working at a point guard camp to improve those skills.
But he also enjoys it when freshman Erick Green enters the game, allowing Delaney to slide over to shooting guard. That's when he can really show off his skills, which not only include great outside shooting but a knack for getting into the lane and drawing fouls.
"My brother taught me that scorers find a way to score," Delaney said. "He always told me `if you can get to the line at least six times a game, that's easy points.'
"A lot of people play my jumper, so I had to develop a game going into the lane. I know you can't be a one-dimensional player in college basketball. If you're a scorer they're going to try to take certain things away from you. Getting in the lane and drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line is part of my game that I take pride in."
Delaney leads the ACC by averaging 7.7 free throw attempts per game. Opposing coaches know he's going into the lane but can't stop him from drawing contact.
"He's probably one of the most underrated players in the country," said Miami's Frank Haith. "He has great size, he can shoot the ball, he can drive it, and now he has tremendous respect within our league. He gets fouled a lot. In the games in which he's had major numbers, you look at how many times he's gone to the line."
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton has noticed something else that stands out about Delaney.
"He has supreme confidence," Hamilton said. "He believes in himself, his teammates believe in him, and he never seems to get rattled, regardless of how you defend him. He has tremendous court savvy (and) he knows how to draw fouls.
"If you back off of him he has unlimited shooting range. If you push up on him he can take it and pull up and shoot the floaters. Once he gets inside he has that ability to jump into the big men and get to the foul line. So I think he's the whole package."
It's still relatively early in the ACC schedule and the Hokies sit with a 1-2 league record (13-3 overall) heading into Saturday's home game against Boston College. But Delaney believes they will get into the thick of things.
"I think we're going to finish around the top of the ACC and we have a good chance to win it," he said. "This is one of the best teams I've been on since I've been here, if not the best, because we're a lot more together this year, we're having a lot more fun and we're a lot more dedicated to defense. I just feel so confident with this team.
"We're a very scrappy team and a lot of teams don't like playing against us because we play so hard. When we stick to that, we're a great team. When we go away from it and just try to outscore people and just run up and down the court, that's when we let things get out of hand."
Delaney's evolution since his freshman season has been notable.
"He's a world-class shooter," Greenberg said. "He's making more plays off the dribble. Off the screen-and-roll, he's finding not just the first option but the second and third option off of that. He's extremely competitive, he has improved his body, his strength and his quickness, and he's experienced."
He's also working on improving his leadership skills by becoming more vocal on the court and in practice.
"A couple of the coaches challenged me this year to push people in practice," Delaney said, "and start being tougher because I know that's what we need to win. And the leader role is important to me right now, pushing people to boundaries that they didn't think they could go to."
Just another ingredient in his city game.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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