By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Don't be fooled by the viking beard and the cavalier approach to man-on-man defense. Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova is a good country boy with a heart of gold, according to proud residents of the Australian's sleepy home-town.
Since replacing the injured Kyrie Irving, the feisty 24-year-old's starring role in the NBA Final series has surprised opponents, pundits and his compatriots Down Under, where basketball is generally a faint beep on the sporting radar.
But his success has not raised too many eyebrows in Maryborough, Victoria state, where locals among the population of 8,000 rave about "Dellie", a dogged talent with an obsessive work ethic who seemed destined to make his mark in the big-time.
"If you actually know him it's not surprising," David Sutton, the principal of Dellavedova's local high school, told Reuters by telephone.
"He had such determination, resilience, ability to focus and work hard, enormous self-belief and huge competitive drive.
"He's very, very clever, academically, super-smart. He was good at all things ... I think that's one of the things that's working in his favor. He actually understands the game at a higher level than others."
With the NBA playoffs beamed during daylight hours in Australia, the school's performing arts center has been turned into a screening room for students to watch games during morning breaks and lunch.
The Cavaliers lead Golden State Warriors 2-1 in the best-of-seven series and if it goes down to the wire, the school might have to shift class-times to allow live viewing, said Sutton, who has known the player since he was at kindergarten.
The Dellavedova family is prominent in town, with the basketballer's mother Leann and aunt both teachers at Maryborough Educational Centre.
Dellavedova's father Mark was also a decent basketballer in local leagues.
Like small towns the world over, virtually everyone knows everyone in Maryborough, where tidy streets and grand public buildings are typical of the rural centers near Melbourne that boomed in the 19th century gold rush.
The town is proud of its history of producing top players in the indigenous football code Australian Rules, which remains the true sporting obsession for most people in the country's southern states.
But the Dellavedova buzz has taken sporting pride to a new level and the council will consider a proposal to re-name the local two-court basketball stadium the "Dellavedova Dome".
Wendy McIvor, mayor of the Central Goldfields Shire which incorporates the town, is a family friend and supports the motion for a player she describes as down-to-earth and with the highest integrity.
"He's just the same old kid when he comes home," she told Reuters.
"We're so thrilled for him personally, we're thrilled that his hard work and dedication has got him so far."
Dellavedova brought his Californian college team St. Mary's home with him one year, causing a stir.
Bringing his Cleveland team mates with the trophy would be the ultimate honor.
"We would be so excited if LeBron James came and had a game of basketball in the town," McIvor laughed. "We'd open up the door to him, don't you worry."
Dellavedova was on an IV drip in hospital to treat severe cramping after his lion-hearted, 20-point performance in Tuesday's win in Game Three.
Few in Maryborough have any doubt he will be able to rise to the occasion for Game Four on Thursday.
"When he gets knocked down he gets back up again. And he keeps giving more and more," said McIvor.
"We don't want to miss a minute. There's Dellie fever through the whole community ... Dellie gold from Maryborough."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)