Two hundred times a day, Steve deLaveaga glances hoopward and feels the seams of a Voit basketball before lightly rolling the sphere off his fingertips toward his nothing-but-nylon target. Some days, he pushes up 300 shots. And if you include the 50 he takes with sandbag-type weights strapped to his wrists, supposedly the equivalent of an additional 200 shots, he closes in on about 500 a day.
Shooting the basketball is to deLaveaga what ham sandwiches are to Nell Carter--the apex of existence.
He admits he is something of a basketball-playing mess--"basketball dictates my life," he says--but even deLaveaga seems surprised that all the work is bringing such on-court personal success. The 6-4, 180-pound guard's list of accomplishments includes:
A scoring average of 27.6 for Cal Lutheran this season.
A recommendation by his coaches--endorsed by none other than John Wooden and Laker Coach Pat Riley--for an invitation to the U. S. Olympic basketball team tryouts.
A victory over Laker guard Byron Scott in an off-season, three-point shooting contest.
An all-but-sure shot at breaking CLU's single-season scoring record and becoming the school's career scoring leader.
Although no one at Cal Lutheran will come right out and say it, deLaveaga is the team's offense. CLU does have other adequate scorers--the team averages 79 points--but without deLaveaga (pronounced da-LAH-vee-AAH-ga), the 9-10 Kingsmen probably would have turned to slob ice and melted to 4-15.
Despite facing contorted defenses specifically designed to shut him down--the box-and-one, diamond-and-one, triangle-and-two--deLaveaga has led his team in scoring in 18 of 19 games. He scored 35 points against Seattle Pacific, Cal Poly Pomona and Azusa Pacific and had 38 against Cal State Stanislaus, 42 against UC San Diego and 37 against Westmont.
Against Westmont, with the Kingsmen trailing by three with four seconds left, deLaveaga made a three-point bomb from the top of the key to force the game into overtime.
"A great shot," teammate Jeff Logsdon says.
"The kind of shot I should make," the shooter says. "It was nothing, really."
The oh-so-humble deLaveaga went on to score 10 points in the extra period and CLU won, 85-79.
The victory is worth further examination because beyond the last-second, game-tying basket, the Kingsmen flew to the upset riding the shoulders of their skinny guard, who in this game was forced to play forward because of a teammate's injury. Just the same, they almost crashed and burned while aboard. DeLaveaga opened the game by missing his first seven shots and CLU fell behind, 25-10. But, including the overtime, he scored 27 points in the final 20 minutes and brought the Kingsmen back.
It is significant that CLU Coach Larry Lopez allowed deLaveaga to keep shooting even after his doleful start against Westmont. Lopez has seen the junior's shooting flop back and forth from frosty to steamy--with the team flopping along in tow--throughout his three seasons at Cal Lutheran.
"Last year, Steve would score 20 one game, then have games of 0, 4, 6 points, but he's become more consistent this year," Lopez says. "He's less streaky."
DeLaveaga hacks and wheezes at the suggestion of being an on-again, off-again scorer. "I'm not a streak shooter," he says flatly. "There are times when I just don't shoot the ball real well."
That pretty much clears it up, then. Either way, he keeps on shooting. He put up 21 shots against Fresno Pacific last week even though he made only seven because, he said, "that's my role. It's my job to be a scorer."
Privately, some of deLaveaga's teammates consider him a ball hog. A year ago, he took nearly 100 more shots than any other Kingsman. This season, he has taken 389 shots, nearly twice as many as anyone else.
"He feels he has to carry the team," guard Blake Miraglia says. "Sometimes, he feels that way more than he needs to."
Nevertheless, deLaveaga is shooting 50% overall, including a 56% average from behind the three-point line. And, as Logsdon says, "When the game is on the line, nobody seems to mind giving him the ball."
Outside of the inherent I-shoot-more-because-I-make-more arrogance that comes with a player who takes in excess of 20 shots a game, deLaveaga serves up humble pie all around.
"I'm no more valuable than any other guy on this team," he says, "and that includes the guys on the bench. We all have our equally important roles." This, even though deLaveaga's is to score the game-winning basket, while the bench's role basically is to hold their breath and hope his rainbows drop through.
If the I'm-no-more-valuable line sounds cliche, there are plenty more in deLaveaga's treasure chest of truisms. Here are some samples:
Reputation is what others think of you. Character is what you think of yourself.
When you're satisfied with yourself, you quit getting better.
My goal is to be the best I can be.
I don't do things half-heartedly. Whatever I do, I do it full tilt.
Hard work is the key to success.