Kentucky's lone 2015 commitment embracing Wildcats' competitive atmosphere

broberts@herald-leader.comJune 19, 2014 

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    Visit recruiting writer Ben Roberts' Next Cats blog on to read news, notes and updates from the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., which features several University of Kentucky basketball targets for the class of 2015. You can also follow Ben on Twitter @NextCats.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Charles Matthews was talking to reporters Thursday at the NBPA Top 100 Camp when one of his fellow basketball recruits walked by with a big smile on his face.

It was Carlton Bragg, and he had something to say to Matthews.

"Kentucky," Bragg whispered. "Kentucky."

Matthews returned the smile and shook his hand.

"It's on," he replied.

As UK's only commitment for the class of 2015, Matthews is the Wildcats' unofficial ambassador at camps like the one in Virginia this week.

He's more than happy in that role.

The 6-foot-5 combo guard from Chicago said he's been actively recruiting Bragg and Cheick Diallo to join him in Lexington next year. Both players are ranked among the top 10 prospects in the class of 2015 and both have scholarship offers from Kentucky.

Matthews smiled again when somebody mentioned fellow combo guard Malik Newman, another one of UK's top recruiting targets for 2015.

"That's my boy," he said, stopping for a moment to think about his next move. "I'm going to have to hit him up after I get done talking to you. ... I've spoken to him about Kentucky before. He's really interested as well."

Matthews spoke about adding other players in his class with the relaxed tone of someone who seemed to be glad his own recruiting process was finished.

He committed to the Wildcats in February, and things haven't been so easy since.

Matthews has dealt with groin and ankle injuries over the past few months. He's been sidelined for some of that time, and he hasn't always felt 100 percent when he's been on the court.

That's probably had something to do with his recent drop in the national recruiting rankings. One example: Matthews fell 33 spots to No. 48 overall in the latest Top 100.

He said he hadn't even noticed that his "stock" has fallen in recent weeks and claimed that he rarely pays any attention to such rankings. It certainly isn't going to be what drives him to improve as a player.

"I'm self-motivated," he said. "I have bigger goals past high school. I'm just trying to continue to work on my game and grow as a player and grow as a person, and everything else will take care of itself."

Matthews returned to the court earlier this month and led his 3-on-3 team to the Team USA national championship in the under-18 age group. His squad didn't qualify for the world championships in China, but he described the Team USA competition as a fun experience that helped him readjust to tough opponents after some time off.

He's seeing even better competition at the Top 100 Camp, which includes many of the best high school basketball players in the country.

Matthews has looked good this week, getting to the basket seemingly whenever he wants and either finishing with a bucket or drawing a foul in the process.

His elite athleticism benefits him in that area. It also helps him on the other end of the floor, where he's developing into the kind of lockdown defender that Coach John Calipari cherishes at UK.

That hasn't prevented opponents from going at him, especially now that he's committed to the Cats.

"It's definitely a target on your back," he said. "People really come after you hard to knock your head off, but that comes with the territory. That's what you get when you sign with the BBN and UK. You have to be able to compete and go against the best.

"People are going to play their best against you every time, but I'm fine with it. I actually like it a lot."

He knows he'll have to get used to the competition.

The NBA Draft analysts will expect Andrew and Aaron Harrison to leave for the pros after their second season at UK, but the Cats should still be loaded in the backcourt when Matthews arrives on campus in 2015.

Dominique Hawkins will be a junior by then, and while incoming freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis should both be instant-impact players this season, no one expects them to be one-and-done-type talents.

Add in a top-five recruit like Newman or Jaylen Brown and minutes might be hard to come by. Matthews was well aware of that when he decided to commit.

"It's a competitive atmosphere," he said. "You know that going in to the program. You got to come and compete. It really gets you prepared for everything in life, because regardless of what you do, you're going to have to compete with others trying to do the same thing you're doing. But Cal does a great job of managing egos.

"I feel that's the only program in the country where you can recruit all these top players and get them to come together as one in such a short span of time. But he gets it done. Playing with a lot of other great players, I'm not worried about that."

He's looking forward to it, just as he's looking forward to his official visit for Big Blue Madness in October, signing with UK in November and watching his future teammates throughout the upcoming season.

In fact, Matthews has already caught on to one of the local customs of his future home: Using championship banners as the final judgment.

"Right now, we're adding nine," he said, "and when I get there we'll add 10. That's the goal."

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

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