College Division / Mitch Polin : Cal Lutheran Guard Thinks a Pro Career Is Possible

By now, guard Steve deLaveaga of Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks has heard just about every reason he doesn't have a future in professional basketball.

Mostly, the reports say the 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior from San Ramon is too slow or too skinny to make it in the National Basketball Assn.

Such an evaluation might discourage most. But that's what college recruiters were saying about deLaveaga before he started playing for Cal Lutheran four seasons ago.

Before he went on to virtually rewrite the school's scoring records.

In four seasons with the Kingsmen, deLaveaga has an average of 22.3 points including 27.4 points as a junior and 28.2 this season. He has a school-record 2,524 points and has scored in double figures in 81 consecutive games--second nationally among active players behind Sean Elliott of Arizona at 98.

He also scored a school-record 51 points in his team's 130-96 victory over Christ College of Irvine Tuesday and is third among National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division II players in scoring average this season and ninth in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Still, deLaveaga realizes he is a long shot to reach the NBA. Cal Lutheran, after all, does not play the kind of schedule that would impress professional scouts.

"I'm not one of those guys that they're knocking down doors for," he said. "But that's OK because I've been in that position before. All I want is a chance."

It seems as if that's how it has been for deLaveaga through every step of his basketball career.

"My whole life, I've been told that I couldn't do this and I couldn't do that," he said. DeLaveaga was hardly an instant success as a prep player at California High in San Ramon. In fact, he was eighth man on his team as a freshman and sixth man as a sophomore before starting as a junior and senior.

He averaged 22 points and was an all-league selection as a senior but didn't attract the attention of many four-year colleges. Only Cal Lutheran offered him a full scholarship.

And only deLaveaga knew that he could succeed.

"Everybody said I was still a step slow but I knew I could play college ball," he said.

"I kind of overachieved just to get to college," he said. "I didn't really set any guidelines for myself. I just wanted to get better year by year."

At Cal Lutheran, deLaveaga has shown steady improvement in averaging 13.5 points as a freshman, 20.1 as a sophomore and 27.4 as a junior. He has also improved considerably in other areas and is second in rebounds and assists and first in steals this season.

"My sophomore year, I became the guy they'd look to for baskets," he said. "As I got older I learned I could also help our team more in other ways. Because of double teams, I've helped the others get open shots. In basketball you can't just be a scorer and Coach (Larry) Lopez has helped me on that. After my sophomore year, he challenged me and I became better at passing and defense."

He credits a strong desire to succeed for his development.

"Recruiters don't measure heart and I always played with a lot of heart," deLaveaga said. "That's the one thing that's gotten me to this point. There were so many guys that I played with that were much higher rated (in high school) and now they're sixth man at this level."

DeLaveaga is a workaholic who stays long after most of the other players have left practice and frequently helps out at high school and youth camps in his spare time.

"He is just a flat-out basketball junkie and I say that in the most complimentary terms," said Brian Underwood, Cal Lutheran assistant coach. "He loves to play basketball but he's by no means a one-dimensional athlete. He's also a good student."

It is a rare day when deLaveaga doesn't practice.

"I have trouble with moderation," deLaveaga said. "I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with anything I do."

DeLaveaga, who is shooting 44.3% from three-point range, is hoping that his skills will be enough to make it to the NBA but realizes there is still plenty of work ahead. "The whole game needs improvement," he said. "My quickness for one, my range as a shooter. To play at the next level, I have to be able to do the whole thing. Not just shoot but all the other things involved in playing basketball."

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