UMass Gets “Blue Collar” Center in DePaul College Prep’s Brian Mathews

UMass commit Brian Mathews from DePaul College Prep

Six years ago, Brian Mathews didn’t even play basketball: He was a soccer goalkeeper. Fast-forward to late August and Mathews committed to play Division 1 basketball at UMass.

How exactly did he go from hoops newbie to college player so quickly?

Like many other athletes thrust into basketball at that age, Mathews, a Chicago resident, was blessed with height that naturally attracts them to the game (or often brings people in the game to them). Mathews was 6-5 when he entered high school and had a size 15 shoe in seventh grade. Still, he was an expectedly raw prospect.

“He was big and long — imagine a puppy dog,” Tom Kleinschmidt, Mathews’ high school head coach at DePaul College Prep, said in a phone interview. “He was all over the place. His body was so big, he couldn’t control it at 12 years old [when I first met him].”

Still, being tall doesn’t guarantee that someone plays in college. Mathews had something many other young bigs lack.

“What stuck out to me was how hard he played,” Kleinschmidt said. “To get a kid that size to play that hard that early, it’s a great piece of clay [to mold].”

As a freshman, Mathews practiced with the DePaul College Prep varsity team, but only played in games “if we were up 30”, as he put it, while putting up big numbers on the sophomore team. Still, he said that just being with the varsity team made him think that maybe one day he could play in college.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I can go really far with this,'” Mathews said in a phone interview.

As a sophomore he moved into a starting role, becoming the rim protector behind a group of aggressive, high-flying perimeter players.

In his junior year Mathews took a leap forward offensively to become one of the most well-rounded big men in the Chicago area. His 2019-20 averages for a team that went 26-6: 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks while shooting 64 percent from the field and 36 percent from the arc.

Mathews said his ball-handling and outside shooting have been his biggest priority heading into senior year.

“Every year he takes more and more [three-pointers],” Kleinschmidt said. “He looks very comfortable now shooting the ball. … Instead of rolling all the time he can mix it up with the roll and seal, and he can pop as well. It’s just another dimension to his game that he’ll continue to carry as he gets older and graduates to college.”

Mathews’ evolution as a player isn’t surprising to others who have seen his basketball journey.

“He’s a hard-working, blue collar player and just a good young man,” Andre Rogers, boys head coach at Legal Prep and Mathews’ 7th and 8th grade AAU coach, said in a message. “I’ve [been] privileged to be around him since the 7th grade and see him grow from a little boy to a great young man.”

Mathews’ development on the court tells you about his love of the game and his work ethic. But there’s more to him as a person. Take his reaction to Hurricane Laura and its devastation in the Southeast:

“I just felt so bad for what happened to the people [affected by the hurricane],” Mathews said. “And I know that if something happened to Chicago or our neighborhood we would have people helping us.”

In the future Mathews wants to help people professionally. He chose UMass in large part because of its criminology program, and he hopes to eventually work as a detective or for the FBI.

Kleinschmidt pointed to Mathews’ relationship with his older sister, Anna, who has autism, to illustrate who Mathews is beyond basketball. The coach says the two are inseparable.

“The way he takes care of his sister and loves his sister is truly amazing,” Kleinschmidt said. “It’s been like that since I’ve known him. She’s his best friend, she goes everywhere with him. She’s his biggest fan. It’s just really refreshing to see a kid take care of his sister like that.”

Rewind back to Mathews’ soccer-playing days. It was his sister, who played Special Olympics basketball, who first convinced him to try out for the sport.

Mathews’ mother, Bernadette, said that in their house they have a saying, made entirely of two-letter words to help Anna remember it, that pushed him to improve his game: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

It was up to Mathews to do the work to make himself a D1 basketball player. It is to be, next fall in Amherst.

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