‘Most Improved’ Emmitt Matthews Building On End Of Last Season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –The words that came out of West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ mouth were not the most surprising we will hear this year, considering the indications that came forth toward the end of last season, but they were maybe the most comforting words since Oscar Tshiebwe announced he was coming to play basketball at WVU.
“I would say Emmitt Matthews is our most improved guy,” Huggins said after one his team’s practices in preparation for an overseas trip to Spain for three-game, 10-day exhibition and team building tour of three cities.
Matthews, of course, through most of last season was the Invisible Man, a talented freshman who had made the cross country trip from Tacoma, Washington, but who had little to contribute through most of the season.
After getting 52 early playing minutes against Saint Joseph’s, Valparaiso and Youngstown State, contributing his first double-figure scoring effort while notching 21 points in those three games, he went off on a sabbatical.
He went 15 games — during which he scored just 16 points — before his next double-figure effort.
He had been mostly a lost soul, seeking his confidence and his place on the team, with the losing and disarray the team was in on its way to a 21-loss season doing nothing to help matters.
“I was just taking my time,” he explained. “We had so much going on. I wanted to find my way. It was a hard season mentally. You don’t really know what guys are going to have.
“It was kind of like upside down. Once everything smoothed out it was like ‘OK, it’s time!’”
That was mid-February, right around the Kansas game.
He said it wasn’t one great moment of revelation or anything like that.
“I think I might have had a good practice or something and it was there,” Matthews said.
Life in the shadows had been difficult for him.
“At first it was a little frustrating, not knowing what was going on. The thing for me playing basketball is if I’m not having fun it’s hard. After I started having fun everything went smooth or me,” he said.
“It took me a while to get used to it. Being on the treadmill in practice is not fun. Doing all the things we do is not fun, but learning to find the fun things in all that is what I had to do. Now I get on the court and, all right, defense is fun, getting rebounds is fun, getting points of rebounds is fun.”
He took off.
He reached double figures in four of the season’s last six games, topping 20 points twice and being the key figure as WVU upset Texas Tech, the national runner up, in the Big 12 Tournament.
In that game he had 28 points and eight rebounds.
He had arrived and has only built on it since, coming back about 25 pounds heavier, a bit bigger and filled with confidence.
“He’s more aggressive. Look at him, he’s much stronger than what he was. He may have grown a little bit. He really wants to be good,” Huggins said. “That’s the thing, he puts the time in. When you play and see the results — the fruits of your labor so to speak — it energizes you.”
It is as he said, fun when you are doing things right, and Matthews is the kind of kid who understands that doing things right isn’t always measured in points and rebounds.
“As a freshman I just came in and see what I could do on the court. Now, as a sophomore, I’m doing whatever I can to win. I don’t have to score 10 points or 20 points. I can get five points and maybe get 15 rebounds or do something to win the game,” he said.
“It’s not always about scoring. I could score zero points and have zero rebounds but guard the best scorer on their team and hold him to fewer than 10 points, then I have helped win.”