For a fleeting moment, the ever-popular Dino Mallios made himself a bit less popular.
He was a freshman at Saint Anselm College, and while sitting on the sideline during a pickup game, Mallios was offering positive words to teammates. On the advice of coach Keith Dickson, however, it was time to employ a new strategy.
“I was just encouraging people, saying things like, ‘Nice shot,’ ’’ Mallios said. “But Coach came up to me and said, ‘You know, you can yell at guys every now and then too.’ ”
What may have been temporarily unnatural for Mallios — the all-time scoring leader at Winthrop High — helped define the evolution of his role as the starting point guard, and leader, for the Saint Anselm men’s basketball team.
“Dino is one of those kids where it’s, ‘Everybody loves Dino,’ ’’ Dickson said. “He’s everyone’s friend. But I wanted him to get a harder edge. And everyone respects him. When Dino’s edge shows, it comes out, and everyone else listens. He’s as big a reason as anyone else for our success.”
That success includes piloting the Hawks to the NCAA Division 2 quarterfinals a year ago, and to this year’s East Regional final, where Saint Anselm (22-8) fell to host Southern Connecticut, 78-72, Tuesday night. In his final game, Mallios finished with 13 points, six assists, four rebounds, and two steals.
Saint Anselm asserted itself as one of the East Region’s top teams throughout the season with an often dazzling display on offense. The up-tempo system benefits from having five starters with scoring touches, along with the deft abilities of Mallios as the director.
“His court vision has just opened up every year,” Dickson said of Mallios, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.7 assists this season. “He’s making sure we get possessions by not turning the ball over. Early in his career, he was a cautious player, and didn’t take a lot of risks. But in the last two years, he’s become much more creative in his passing.”
His growing comfort level might have been boosted in part by the skill set of Mike McCahey, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward who averaged 16.5 points per game.
Mallios “sees the floor as good as anyone I’ve seen,” McCahey said. “He keeps everyone in place and lets everyone know where they need to be.”
But Mallios deflected credit for the system’s success.
“We have two wings that can just shoot the ball so well,” he said. “We have players that can take advantage of people off the dribble. It’s just the responsibility that comes with the position.”
Dickson, in his 28th year on the Hawks bench, is well aware of the significance of the position.
“I think with Dino, you see that he’s a captain and a point guard,” said Dickson, who played the point at the University of New Hampshire.
“When you have those two positions covered well, most teams will have a good team. I don’t think we’re an exception. We have good players at every other position, but we have great leadership and a terrific point guard. Everything else sort of just slots into the right place.”
Mallios will leave Manchester, N.H., just as he left Winthrop High — at the top of his game.
“My freshman and sophomore years were building blocks,” he said. “But to make the NCAAs two years in a row, that’s pretty awesome, and not many can say it.”
Saint Anselm also received contributions from freshman forward Isaiah Nelson, a North Andover High grad, and sophomore guard/forward Ryan Hartung, from Haverhill and Phillips Academy in Andover.