Sports

Max DiLeo: The Heart of the Hawks


max-dileoIf you attend a men's basketball game, you may be wondering who the extremely zealous player is at the end of the starting line up's roll call; the one who has dedicated a special handshake for every teammate and who gets riled up during the actual game. That student athlete is junior Maximilian DiLeo, more commonly called Max.

DiLeo began his athletic career in Cinnaminson, NJ as he lettered in basketball, soccer, and track and field. Although he excelled in each individual sport and earned many awards in soccer, he chose to play basketball in college because of his family roots.

"My whole family does basketball. My mom was professional, my dad played in college, coached in Europe and the NBA, he was with the 76ers at the time when I made the decision to come here and my brother played at Temple," DiLeo said. "It was just always my dream to be a D1 basketball player."

DiLeo pursued his dream at the University as a walk on during his freshman year. In his view, he thought MU gave him the best chance to see playing time and be receptive to a walk on.

"We had very good feelings about Max when we first met him. Coach Larry Brown (head coach at SMU) brought him to our attention," head coach King Rice recalled. "His father was the GM of the 76ers, so we knew he grew up around the game. We really didn't have an understanding that he would be this good but we knew his family and that his brother had done well at Temple. We thought he would be a kid that could really help our program, and he has by far exceeded expectations."

During his freshman year, he appeared in 25 games for the Hawks. DiLeo improved over the summer and saw 30 games his sophomore year. As a junior, DiLeo has seen playing time in nearly every game MU has played this season.

Although he worked very hard as a walk on for his playing time, he does credit some of his drive to his big brother and role model, TJ DiLeo.

"We have been competing since we were kids. That competition has helped me become what I am today," DiLeo said. "He has helped me through a lot of situations because he has been through everything I have been through, just a couple years before me. It's just easy to talk to him and ask for advice."

As of now, TJ DiLeo is playing professionally in Germany, a career his younger brother is interested to pursue eventually, but first, he has to finish his collegiate career.

In his opinion, the hardest game, not only of the season, but also his collegiate career occurred on Jan. 26 against conference rivals, the Rider University Broncs.

"We didn't start out well. We were fighting our way back the whole time, we finally made our way back at the very end of the game by tying it up and putting it into overtime. Then in overtime, we were real tired and didn't come away with the win," DiLeo said bitterly. "It was just challenging to keep the right mindset after the game. We started off so bad, but we played so well the rest of the game. We scored more baskets than them, they just had a crazy amount of foul shots."

MU has played Rider twice this season. The Hawks first hosted the Broncs on Dec. 5 for their first ESPN3 game of the season. MU lost that battle, 89-83. On Jan. 26, the Hawks attempted redemption but lost once more, 77-71.

"Rider is the biggest rival. Every time we played them, since I was a freshman, it has been a close game," DiLeo said. "This year, both times we played them we scored more baskets than them, they just went to the foul line a lot."

DiLeo's thoughts of Rider do not only stem from what happened on the court, but also what happened off the court. "When I was looking for schools, I wanted to try and walk on there but the coach didn't let me come as a walk on. Hopefully they regret that now," DiLeo said laughing.

Although DiLeo has played in most games this season, he was recently sidelined due to an ankle injury he acquired against Saint Peter's on Sunday, Feb. 9. While many would be discouraged from an obstacle such as this, it has only fueled DiLeo's fire.

"As soon as it happened, I start thinking about all the hard work I will have to put in to get back to where I was and I kind of use that as a challenge," DiLeo said.

This statement is a testament to the type of team player the junior is.

"Max DiLeo is one of the toughest competitors I've seen. He's a kid that empties his tank every single day," Coach Rice said. "I think his passion has carried us through this season. He had shown that he was this type of kid his first two years, but he has really grown into being a leader and we are very fortunate to have him as part of our program."

DiLeo plans to come back and join the team for the 2014 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships which begins on Thursday, March 6 and lasts until Monday, March 10.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Jim Reme