A long jour­ney has na­tive De­laney liv­ing his NBA dreams

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck

WASH­ING­TON very­body is on some kind of j our­ney these days. It’s a catch-all metaphor with new-age im­pli­ca­tions that can be ap­plied to al­most any set of cir­cum­stances that lead from one point in life to an­other.

For 27-year-old At­lanta Hawks rookie Mal­colm De­laney, how­ever, the decade-long quest that took him from Tow­son Catholic to the ful­fill­ment of his life­long dream of play­ing in the NBA was a jour­ney in the most lit­eral sense of the word.

It took him to Vir­ginia Tech, of course, where he was a two-time first-team Al­lAt­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence se­lec­tion with NBA po­ten­tial. It took him to France when it be­came ap­par­ent he wasn’t go­ing to be se­lected in the 2011 draft. It took him to Ger­many, Ukraine and Rus­sia, where he es­tab­lished him­self as one of the top play­ers in Europe. And it fi­nally brought him back to the States this year on a two-year con­tract with the Hawks.

“It was tough,” De­laney said. “It was

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tough be­cause I think I should have been drafted. I didn’t re­ally let it al­ter any of my goals or any­thing like that. I signed my first deal be­fore the draft. My agent came up with a plan. He was re­al­is­tic with me­and told me, ‘You can play in the league if you want to wait around; you’ll be on a ros­ter,’ but he thought it was bet­ter for me to go and show peo­ple I could ex­pand my game and play point guard.”

De­laney did more than that, win­ning league Most Valu­able Player hon­ors with Ukraine’s Bu­di­vel­nyk Kyiv in 2013 and with Bay­ern Mu­nich in Ger­many in 2014. He got some in­ter­est from the Hous­ton Rock­ets a cou­ple of years ago and nearly signed with the Hawks be­fore last sea­son, but the jour­ney con­tin­ued through Rus­sia.

“We were on the Black Sea. … We had the best weather, so I was kind of com­fort­able there,” he said. “But be­ing that far away from home with the eight-, nine-hour time dif­fer­ence, not be­ing able to be home on hol­i­days, you ba­si­cally miss ev­ery­thing, be­cause I was gone for 10 months a year.”

It cer­tainly was far re­moved from that first sea­son in France, when the cul­ture shock and the homesickness forced De­laney to grow up in a hurry. By the time he got to Rus­sia, he knew why he had crossed the ocean and had no re­grets.

“It helped me a lot,” he said. “For me to leave my fam­ily for 10 months, I had to con­cen­trate on what I went over there for — to pro­vide for my fam­ily and get bet­ter. Ev­ery­thing else wasn’t a pri­or­ity for me. I was there to work and I treated it as my pro­fes­sion, and that’s how I got through it.”

If only his tri­umphant home­com­ing had not turned into what he has de­scribed as the worst night of his life.

De­laney signed with the Hawks in July and came home to cel­e­brate with his fam­ily and friends. But what was sup­posed to be a festive night in Wash­ing­ton be­came a night­mare when the van he and his friends were riding in was sprayed with bul­lets in a drive-by shoot­ing that ap­par­ently was sparked by a seem­ingly mi­nor al­ter­ca­tion ear­lier in the evening.

Five bul­lets struck De­laney’s brother, Vin­cent, leav­ing him a para­plegic. He barely got to the hos­pi­tal in time for doc­tors to save his life, but he sur­vived and De­laney said he is out of the hos­pi­tal and do­ing very well.

“They brought him back twice,” he said. “The doc­tors and ev­ery­body whosees him­nowareshockedto see where he is. He’s fully func­tional. He’s par­a­lyzed from the waist down, but as far as men­tally and ev­ery­thing else, he’s good.”

De­laney also re­mem­bers the sad irony from that night. The group would have gone out in Bal­ti­more, but he de­cided to move the party to Wash­ing­ton be­cause of the un­rest and vi­o­lence that had gripped his home­town for the pre­vi­ous 14 months.

“There was a lot of stuff go­ing on back home,” he said. “I called a club owner that I know per­son­ally and he wanted to come do it there. I told him I didn’t want to go out in Bal­ti­more. I would rather take them to D.C., be­cause we never had is­sues here. I just got a Sprinter van so ev­ery­body could go to­gether, and it ended up still hap­pen­ing. It was some­thing I couldn’t con­trol.”

De­laney vis­ited his brother Thurs­day night and played his fifth NBA game Fri­day night, a 95-92 loss to the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. He matched his sea­son high with eight points and is av­er­ag­ing about 18 min­utes in his first five games as the backup point guard. He has im­pressed the Hawks coach­ing staff with his abil­ity to step right into a com­pet­i­tive NBA lineup.

“It just kind of feels nor­mal,” De­laney said. “It feels like I’ve been here for a while. It’s just my men­tal­ity. I don’t get star-struck over peo­ple. It’s just that I’ve been work­ing so hard to get here that I de­serve to be here, and I’ve de­cided to do what­ever I can to help the team.”

He has reached his des­ti­na­tion, but the jour­ney is far from over.

“I’ve en­joyed work­ing with Mal­colm and talk­ing about that jour­ney,” coach Mike Bu­den­holzer said. “I think he knows how much re­spect we have for what he’s done — his ca­reer in Europe, the level at which he played and the suc­cess that he had.

“I just think there’s so much to be learned about play­ers, about coach­ing, about the game if you re­ally watch and study the Euro­pean game. He’s just so smart and so gifted, and I couldn’t be hap­pier that he’s play­ing with us. He’s been re­ally good and it’s fun to have guys like that on your team that have had those ex­pe­ri­ences.”

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