Early decision an easy decision for Kentucky's first 2015 commitment

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2014 

The revelation that Charles Matthews had reached his college decision came as a major surprise to the basketball recruiting world earlier this week.

The Chicago standout hasn't even finished his junior season, and several top programs were just getting started in his recruitment.

In Matthews' mind, he'd waited far too long already.

The five-star shooting guard announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky during a ceremony at his high school Wednesday, becoming the first member of UK's recruiting class of 2015.

"I knew where I wanted to go, and I was really happy about that," Matthews told the Herald-Leader. "It's a blessing. I'm happy and really excited. Thankful for it."

It's an early decision for a player of Matthews' caliber, but he said he's known his destination for months.

UK Coach John Calipari made his first contact with Matthews last April with a surprise visit to his high school. He extended a scholarship offer a couple of months later and then hosted Matthews for a campus visit last September.

He felt at home on that trip. "I knew that's where I wanted to go," he said Wednesday.

And he knew he didn't want to string along the other coaches he had grown to respect throughout his recruitment. His other finalists were Kansas, Michigan State, Illinois and Marquette. He had offers and interest from many more schools.

"It wouldn't be fair to them if I just kept on playing with their thoughts and telling them, 'I'm really thinking about going to your school,' when I was really focusing on Kentucky," Matthews said. "So I just got it done with."

He decided to end his recruitment after meeting with Calipari on Monday, but he said that visit concluded with the UK coach unaware of his plans. Matthews called Calipari a few hours later, and then he told UK signees Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker what he was up to.

"They were real happy," Matthews said. "Just letting me know it's another piece to the puzzle and to the family. And it's more than just basketball — it's a brotherhood and it's a friendship. We're ready to go compete with each other."

Matthews is plenty familiar with Ulis, his friend and former teammate on the Chicago summer circuit. He met Booker last summer and said he's looking forward to teaming up with him at UK.

Calipari's backcourt in 2015 is also expected to include Dominique Hawkins, who will be a junior by then, and UK is considered the early favorite for Class of 2015 stars Malik Newman and Luke Kennard — both listed as shooting guards.

Newman is widely regarded as the best backcourt player in the class, and Calipari has probably watched Kennard more than any other prospect this season.

The UK coach will continue to recruit both players, and Matthews took a the-more-the-merrier approach during Wednesday's interview. He said he's watched Newman play and thinks they would match up well. He's less familiar with Kennard, but was eager to learn more about his game and prepared to do some recruiting on UK's behalf.

Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels said it remains to be seen how Matthews' commitment will affect those two players. UK's starting lineup this season includes three guards — Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young — and Daniels said a similar configuration could happen in 2015.

"I think that Kentucky could play three guards, especially with the way Calipari uses his wings," Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "The two and three are pretty interchangeable. And Devin Booker and Charles Matthews are very different players. Booker's game relies on his ability to shoot the basketball. Charles is more about driving the lane. Those two — they kind of complement each other well."

Matthews is ranked between 11th and 15th nationally in the junior class by the four major recruiting services.

The 6-foot-5 prospect is listed as a shooting guard, but he's actually played quite a bit at point guard, especially for his high school team.

"He's a guy who can play on and off the ball," Daniels said. "He's a very good athlete. That's one of his best attributes: his pure athleticism. He's a good passer, a good driver. And I think he has a chance to be a really good defender at the next level.

"With his size and length and mobility, his athleticism, he has the tools to be a very good defender down the road."

Those around Matthews have described him as a student of the game, a quick and willing learner who's always trying to soak up as much basketball knowledge as possible.

He's been a fan of Calipari since his Memphis days. Matthews liked the way he coached Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans there, and he followed John Wall and Calipari's other point guards once he moved to Lexington.

Matthews says he's tried to pattern parts of his game after Evans, and noted that the Indiana Pacers' Paul George is the player he's currently trying to emulate.

"I'm trying to perfect my craft," he said. "So you really have to be a student of the game, study the game, study the ones who came before you so you can imitate the greats. So I just watch how they play and try to add some of the things that they do to my game."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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