D-3 Star A.J. Matthews Dreaming of Shot at the NBA
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — A.J. Matthews didn’t start playing basketball until his junior year of high school.
He didn’t know what the SATs were during his senior year.
And he ultimately landed at a Division III school instead of a Division I powerhouse.
Yet there he was working out for the Knicks on Wednesday following a recent group workout at the Nets’ facility.
“Growing up, my mother was a big Knicks fan and my father liked Brooklyn, born and raised in Brooklyn,” the 6-foot-11, 212-pound Matthews said.
“Me too. I feel like these two teams that invited me here for my first workout, it’s a blessing. I’ll really take advantage of it, try to stay focused and listen to them more and more every drill.”
Matthews, who turns 24 three days after the NBA Draft June 27, worked out on the same day as players from traditional basketball powers like Syracuse (Brandon Triche) and Ohio State (Deshaun Thomas), as well as established mid-majors like Murray State (Isaiah Canaan).
But he comes from D-III Farmingdale State on Long Island, where he was a first-team All-American after once again leading the nation in rebounds per game (14.7) and double-doubles (20), while also averaging 2.88 blocks per game (7th in the nation) and 22.6 points per game (ninth).
“Coming at a D-III school, a lot of people didn’t know about players at that level so during my junior year I had a couple of scouts there, probably 12, 10,” Matthews said. “Then this season, my senior year, mostly every team came to see me play so I thought that was really good for me to have scouts come and see me play at a low level like that.”
Matthews is not projected to go drafted by DraftExpress.com, but one NBA GM thinks he could go late in the second round. The Knicks currently only own a first-round pick (No. 24), but could try to buy a second-round pick.
“Someone might take a flier on him in the 50s but he’s probably an undrafted camp invite guy,” the GM told SNY.tv.
Matthews didn’t get into basketball until his junior year at Harry Van Arsdale High in Brooklyn, and previously told Yahoo! Sports he didn’t know what the SATs were when college coaches asked him about it during his senior season of 2006-7.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Matthews told Yahoo!. “I said, ‘What’s the SATs? I don’t know what SAT is.’ I went back to my guidance counselor and the principal and asked why nobody told me anything about this, but by that time it was too late.”
Asked Wednesday if he felt his guidance counselors didn’t properly prepare him for college, Matthews said:
“At that time yeah, it was both but I felt it was really my fault because I really didn’t like pay attention at that time,” he said. “I wasn’t really into my grades. I’m not going to lie. I was into it but I didn’t know about every little step to go to college because I started playing basketball in 11th grade at high school. So I never played in junior high school or elementary. I just started playing in the 11thgrade. So I never really focused on getting a scholarship to go to a Division 1 [or] 3 until my 11th grade year. And by that time it was already too late.”
The Yahoo! story detailed Matthews’ moves over the next three years to five schools, including basketball factory American Christian (Pa.)
In June 2010, he committed to Fairleigh Dickinson out of Broward (Fla.) Community College.
“A guy like AJ Matthews comes through the NEC about once every 10 years,” former FDU coach Greg Vetrone told Yahoo!. “I really mean that. Just from his defensive prowess, he was an impact player. He’d have changed games.”
But Matthews never qualified and ultimately landed at Farmingdale State.
“Yes, I committed to FDU out of JUCO but my grades wasn’t right at the time,” he said. “So I wasn’t able to go there and I ended up going to Farmingdale State on Long Island.”
He knows the odds are long for him now.
Only nine NBA players have come from the Division III ranks.
“I heard about it but I really don’t pay it no mind,” he said.
“I’m just thinking basketball. Out of high school, I had Division I schools, I had D-II schools, I had JUCO schools I have every (kind of) school, it was just my academics wasn’t at that level. So I really don’t care about that type of Division III or whatever. It’s basketball at the end of the day.”
Graphic Courtesy Yahoo! Sports
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.