Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, we focus on Matt Maloney, one of the greatest players in Penn basketball history…
Before the Ivy League had Linsanity, it had Matt Maloney.
Maloney went from his days at Penn, where he was a starting guard from 1992-95, to being on the Houston Rockets in 1996-97. In that improbable season, he was the starting point guard for a Rockets team featuring future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. He ended up staying in the league for six seasons, three with Houston, one with Chicago and the two with Atlanta.
Matt Maloney was born in Silver Springs, Maryland. By time he was two, his family moved to Haddonfield, New Jersey, since his father, Jim Maloney, became an assistant coach at Temple University. The elder Maloney started with coach Don Casey in 1973, and stayed on after Hall of Fame coach John Chaney took over the program in 1982. While still an assistant at Temple, Jim Maloney tragically passed away in May 1996 when he had a heart attack while driving on the Ben Franklin Bridge and crashed into another vehicle. In his career, Jim Maloney helped lead the Owls to 17 trips to the Big Dance.
Upon graduating from Haddonfield High School in 1990, Matt left for Vanderbilt. Following the 1990-91 season in Nashville, he transferred to Penn in order to be closer to his family, especially his mentoring father. After sitting out the 1991-92 campaign, Maloney was ready to join the Quakers and his fellow backcourt mate Jerome Allen. In that first season, Matt averaged 16.3 points a game and shot 91 three-pointers at a 44.4 percent clip, leading the team to a 22-5 overall mark and 14-0 Ivy championship record. To put his season in some perspective, Allen, that season’s co-Player of the Year, scored 13.0 points a game and hit 50 three pointers. For his part, Maloney earned first-team All-Ivy honors.
In the 1993-94 season, Maloney led the Ivy League in conference scoring at 15.9 a game, while earning another first-team All-Ivy position and leading the Quakers to a 25-3 overall record, 14-0 league title, an AP Top 25 ranking and a first-round “upset” of the East’s 6th ranked (and over-seeded) Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament. In his 1994-1995 senior season, Matt poured in 15.0 points a game, while hitting 87 three-pointers and having 121 assists. After leading the team to another 14-0 Ivy season (22-6 overall) and earning a third straight first team All-Ivy award, Maloney finally captured the league’s Player of the Year award.
In his three seasons, Matt Maloney ended up with 69-14 overall record and an unmatched 42-0 Ivy record. He also scored 1,248 career points, hit 244 three-pointers, and had 157 steals. For his career, Matt is first at Penn in three-point attempts, second in three-pointers made, third in steals, seventh in assists, and eighth in three-point percentage. While several of his single-game performances stand out, including the February 1995 game against Brown, where he set the then-Ivy record with 10 three-pointers, or the 47 points he scored against American in January 1993, perhaps his greatest and most significant game occurred on Jan. 30, 1993.
On that Saturday night, the four time defending champion Princeton Tigers came to a sold out and raucous Palestra. With Maloney seeming to be the last piece of the puzzle for Fran Dunphy’s youthful Quakers, Penn faithful could sense a changing of the guard. In his first appearance in the historic rivalry, Matt was confident and assured as he led all scorers with 18 points in a 64-46 blowout that came to be known as “The Exorcism Game”.
After graduation, the undrafted Maloney tried out for the Golden State Warriors, but did not make the team. He then spent the 1995-96 season playing for the Grand Rapids Mackers in the Continental Basketball Association. After watching video of his son’s CBA games, Jim Maloney felt that Matt had grown enough as a player to make it in the NBA. The Rockets’ brass saw him play in the Midwest Rookie Preview and signed him to a contract for the 1996-1997 season.
With a season-long injury to projected starter Brent Price in the preseason, Charles Barkley was so impressed with Maloney’s toughness, as well as his ability to hold onto the ball and hit open three-pointers, that he lobbied head coach Rudy Tomjonavich to give the starting point guard spot to the rookie. Matt played in all 82 games, playing 29 minutes a game, scoring 9.4 points per game, and helping the team to a 57-25 record. In the playoffs, he outplayed Stephon Marbury of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics to get the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, future Hall of Famer John Houston Stockton took advantage of Maloney and Utah ended up facing Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Jackson and the rest of the Bulls in the NBA Finals.
Following his Second Team All-Rookie season, Maloney again was the starting point guard for the Rockets, who again fell to the Jazz in the first round of the 1998 playoffs. Injuries and a NBA lockout shortened his last season in Houston. Eventually, he ended up in Chicago, and later finished his career with Atlanta in 2003.
Penn’s Jerome Allen and Zack Rosen, as well as Harvard’s Jeremy Lin, have understandably captured most of the publicity for Ivy League guards over the last 25 years. The steely eye coach’s kid with the amazing fundamentals and deadly outside touch may have been less flashy and more reserved, but certainly no less talented, than those Ivy greats. For his part, Matt Maloney, a 2012 Big 5 Hall of Fame inductee, will always be remembered as one of the Ivies all-time best players with an undefeated legacy of confidence and grit that gave tremendous pride to his father and all Penn fans.