By LARRY VAUGHT
For as long as he’s watched Kentucky basketball, Chicago junior guard Charles Matthews has always “admired how fast they play, get up and down the court and throw the lob” during games.
That’s why he verbally committed to UK and coach John Calipari even though the coach warned him that playing at UK was not for everybody.
“I felt I connected real well with him and just felt I knew for sure that is where I wanted to go. I felt it would be disrespectful to other coaches if I allowed them to keep recruiting me when I knew where I wanted to go,” said Matthews. “He stressed to me it was not going to be easy and that everybody goes through a lot of adversity and there will be a lot of doubters and a lot down on the program because they have done so well with young kids in the past.”
Matthews says he “can play any position” and refers to himself as a “combo guard” because of his versatility.
“I don’t let stats define me,” Matthews said. “I go out and play hard and get the win. That’s all that matters.”
His high school coach, Gary DeCesare, is a former college coach. He knows Calipari well and also coached UK assistant Orlando Antigua. He thinks Matthews will fit well at Kentucky.
“He has great versatility on the floor. That’s what he does best,” DeCesare said. “He is 6-6, 6-7 and can handle the ball and shoot. He can play all three guard positions. He’s played every position on the court for me.
“He wants to be the best. He’s like a sponge and absorbs everything. Not only does he want to be the best, but he wants to do something perfect if you give him something to work on. I started four Division I players and had four players averaging in double figures. If Charles needed to score 30 points for us to win, he could do it. He just does what it takes to win, which can be a pretty rare attribute now.”
DeCesare says he’s rare off the court, too.
“He’s a great kid. He just blends in with our other students. He’s a normal student. He’s grateful for his God-given talent, but he’s humble. He’s so likeable. If you went into a classroom, you would not know he is a future college basketball player. He just fits in with everybody else,” the coach said. “If a kid has a good idea and feel for where he wants to go, I tell guys to go ahead and make their decision. If you know what you want to do, and he did, why wait. He knew Kentucky was where he wanted to be, so I knew he was not the kind of kid that would want to mislead others recruiting him.
“I am familiar with Cal. I had two kids play for him during his Final Four run at UMass. Orlando (Antigua) played for me for four years, but it is all about the good fit with the head coach. Assistants come and go. It’s about the relationship with the head coach being good for you. They all recruited him. Cal’s style is not to just have one guy do the recruiting. It’s all a team effort. They all talked to him. Cal has been here. Orlando has been here. Kenny Payne has been here. They all did the work.
“Cal’s style is to be up front with kids. He knows about texting, tweeting and all that stuff. He knows how to build those relationships and Charles feels he has a great relationship with Cal and the Kentucky staff.”