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.
Although he omitted "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," deLaveaga seemingly believes in and draws strength from work-ethic obviousness. Who can argue? It has boosted him from being a high school player only the most desperate college programs wanted to a probable Division II All-American who ranks among the nation's top 10 in scoring.
During his senior season at California High in San Ramon in 1985, deLaveaga was recruited by Concordia (Ore.) College, Linfield (Ore.) College, Claremont, UC Davis and Cal Lutheran. USC asked if he would be interested in walking on. He had averaged 22 points a game in high school but was perceived as a cliche himself--a skinny, slow, white kid who couldn't jump and wouldn't get much better.
"Nobody else knew how hard he'd work," says Lopez, who offered deLaveaga an unheard of full scholarship at CLU. "I told him when he was a freshman that he could be an All-American before he left here. People underestimated him. They thought he was too slow, but now he beats double-teams with his first step."
Other Golden State Athletic Conference coaches agree. Says Cliff Hamlow, coach at Azusa Pacific for 32 years: "We did everything we could to stop him and he still got his shot off and scored a lot. He's the premier player in our conference. He's a difficult man to defend because he moves well without the ball and he has a quick shot."
DeLaveaga increased his quickness and leaping ability by jumping rope during off-seasons and playing almost nonstop in summer leagues, pick-up games and at basketball clinics. Last summer, he worked as a counselor at four basketball camps--John Wooden's, Pat Riley's, Magic Johnson's and Byron Scott's.
It was during Riley's camp at Cal Lutheran that deLaveaga "was volunteered" to face Scott in a three-point shooting contest. The Laker guard beat the Kingsman in the first game, but later deLaveaga came back to edge Scott. "I'd take Steve over Chapman," says CLU assistant Brian Underwood, "if I needed a guy to win a game with a three-point shot."
The coach was referring to Rex Chapman, Kentucky's All-American guard. Which brings up an obvious question then: Has deLaveaga improved enough to play at the major college level?
"He could play Division I," Lopez says. "I won't say he could start at Georgetown, but he could play at a lot of schools. He's the best Division II shooting guard on the West Coast."
So convinced are CLU coaches of deLaveaga's talent that they sent a letter to John Thompson, coach of Georgetown and the 1988 U. S. Olympic basketball team, requesting the guard's inclusion in the Olympic tryouts this spring. "They invite 70 guys," says Underwood, "so he might have a shot. Maybe a white kid who can shoot has a chance."
And maybe Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder will be rehired by CBS.
Regardless, deLaveaga's accomplishments at the Division II level are worthy of note. He led the Kingsmen in scoring as a freshman (13.5 points) and as a sophomore (20.1 points).
Now, at 27.6 points a game, he is the team's undisputed scoring king. With a total of 521 points this season, he likely will surpass CLU's season scoring mark of 624 points set by Steve Jasper in 1972-73. Midway through his junior season, he ranks fourth on the school's career scoring list. Coaches say he will hold most of the Kingsmen scoring records by the end of the 1988-89 season--barring a major injury.
Despite being Cal Lutheran's standard bearer, and thus the target of opponents' crashing and bashing, deLaveaga has yet to miss a game because of injury in 2 1/2 seasons. And rarely does he miss his daily, self-imposed shooting ritual.
"I've been around a lot of basketball players," Logsdon says, "but I've never seen anyone like him. He lives for basketball. I tried to go down to the gym to shoot with him for a while, but my knees wouldn't hold up. He's a shooting machine."
Explains the shooter: "I do what I have to do to be successful. I want to be the best I can be. If you're satisfied with yourself, you stop getting better. I just go out and do my job. I take it one day at a time. Hard work, you know, is the key."
If the shooter's speech is full of cliches, at least he is no longer one himself.