BLACKSBURG, VA. — Since the day he arrived on campus, Malcolm Delaney has provided Virginia Tech with points, assists, toughness and leadership.
He has been a model student and representative for the basketball program and the university. He will depart as one of the most accomplished and decorated players in the history of the program.
Yet coach Seth Greenberg asks one more thing from his uber-competitive guard.
"He's got to smile more," said Greenberg, referring to "the chip" with which Delaney plays. "That's his thing. It's good for him and it works for him and it's a great motivation. But he also needs to enjoy the moment. He needs to smile a little bit more. He needs to realize what he's accomplished and not have his success a burden that works against him."
The notion of Greenberg advising others to chill and enjoy the moment is rich as chocolate turtle cheesecake. The Hokies' eighth-year head coach famously frets and sweats after wins as well as losses. He's been known to call reporters on the mere rumor of an unduly critical piece.
"I'm not very good at it, either," Greenberg admitted. "If we win a game and it's more like relief and I'm worrying about the next game. My wife says, 'Can you, like, enjoy it and sit and have a glass of wine and talk to someone?' But you worry about the next game."
In the next breath, Greenberg said, "I hope Malcolm takes the time to really appreciate what he's done."
Greenberg and Delaney are kindred spirits, pushing themselves and those around them to unexpected heights. They're the ringleaders of a veteran Hokies' team that's picked to finish near the top of the ACC and earn the program's first NCAA berth since 2007.
"We're real confident," Delaney said. "We've got the majority of the team coming back. We know everything we need to get done. We know how to win. We know the ways to limit our losses. We just find a way to show the young guys the ropes of being the best team we can be."
Delaney is driven like few others. The 6-foot-2 senior from Baltimore has an arsenal of motivational tools. Some provide ammunition, others a shield to protect himself from the perils of contentment, or worse, complacency.
Maybe it was the fact that he received less recognition than others with equal or inferior ability. Maybe he was omitted from a certain all-star game or team.
"I don't really work to prove people wrong," Delaney said. "I just know how good I can be. If people doubt me, that just kind of motivates me."
Doubters are dwindling. Such is the case when you're voted unanimous All-ACC after leading the conference in scoring, as he did last season. He was a near-unanimous pick for all-conference this season and received some notice on preseason All-American teams.
Barring injury or the unusual, Delaney could finish as Virginia Tech's No. 3 career scorer if he duplicates last season's productivity. If so, he would pass former Hokie stars Ace Custis, Allan Bristow, Perry Young and Dale Solomon. He would trail only Bimbo Coles (2,484) and Dell Curry (2,389).
Still, Delaney was miffed last summer after he was omitted from the college select team that worked out with the U.S. squad that won the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. He's well aware of the questions surrounding his ability to play point guard in the NBA.
But his primary motivation this season is geared toward the collective and reversing the disappointment of last season's NCAA snub. The Hokies were the first ACC team to win 10 conference games and not make the NCAA field.
"Sitting in coach (Greenberg's) house that Selection Sunday kind of did something for all of us," he said. "That's fuel enough to get better, and that's why I say we had a good summer. People are looking back on that day."
Delaney strongly considered turning professional last summer, but returned to school for several reasons. He was slowed by late-season injuries and was concerned that he couldn't perform at 100 percent for NBA scouts.
Tech's prospects for this season were excellent, returning the top nine scorers. He was only 14 credits shy of earning a degree.
He could improve his game, and his professional stock, while testing himself against the Dukes and North Carolinas at the highest level of college basketball.
"I'm still trying to make that transition to being a better point guard and making plays for other people and making my teammates around me better," Delaney said. "I'm working harder to be a better defensive player, because I'm trying to set the tone on the defensive end this year, too. Just trying to add more to my game."
Delaney has added to his game since he began playing.
"He's always been competitive, no matter what sport he played," said his father, Vincent Delaney. "He was always around older guys, so he had to be competitive to keep up, but that's just his personality."
Vincent Delaney was a respected Baltimore city guard in high school, holding his own against the likes of more heralded players such as Muggsy Bogues, David Wingate and Gary Graham. He attended Voorhees College in South Carolina, where he was a starter and double-figure scorer.
The elder Delaney returned to Baltimore and became a social worker. His wife, Patricia, is a nurse and day-care provider. They raised two sons, Vincent Jr., who played Division II football at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., and Malcolm in a tight-knit family that stressed accountability and education in a tough, East Baltimore neighborhood.
"If you had a game on Saturday, but you screwed up in school that week," Vincent Delaney said, "you weren't playing. Sports were a reward for doing the right things in other areas of your life. They understood that clearly."
Malcolm was successful at everything he tried. He won a Little League home run derby. He quarterbacked his Pop Warner youth football team to a national championship at Disney World. He won an AAU national title in basketball on a team with former Towson Catholic teammate and close friend Donte Greene, currently with the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
While the 6-foot-9 Greene received national attention because of his size and skill set, Delaney was the All-Metro player of the year and Gatorade Player of the Year in the state.
"I think people misunderstand him sometimes," said Josh Pratt, Delaney's high school coach at Towson Catholic. "He's a happy kid and a grounded kid. When you get to know him and he trusts you, you see the heart and the loyalty. But when he's on the floor, he's working toward a goal and until he reaches that goal, he's not satisfied."
Greenberg loved Delaney's work ethic and recruited him, and his parents, tirelessly. He was, said Malcolm, the only head coach who devoted time to Patricia Delaney, which resonated with the family.
Delaney started the final 24 games as a freshman and has been a fixture in the lineup since. He nearly doubled his scoring average from his freshman to his sophomore years, from 9.6 to 18.1. His 20.2 scoring average last season was the second-highest by a Tech player since Coles' senior year in 1990.
"There's something about Baltimore guards," Greenberg said. "Baltimore's had a lot of really good guards. It's like a country within itself. I mean, that's just the way a lot of those guys look at it. I just thought he had 'it.' You can't put your hand on it, but he just had 'it.' And we were right."
Indeed, it's been a good fit between the coach who lives and breathes the underdog mentality and the player who would rather compete against marquee opponents and programs than with them.
"It's kind of how our program is," Delaney said. "That's what we base our play off of — we play harder than most teams and we just outwork everybody, and that's how we get most of our wins."