Ex-Cats

Charles Matthews ‘loved Kentucky … but I needed a role change’

Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, left, talked with guard Jamal Murray during a break in the first half against Georgia on Feb. 9, 2016, in Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, left, talked with guard Jamal Murray during a break in the first half against Georgia on Feb. 9, 2016, in Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Charles Matthews could have stayed at Kentucky.

He appreciated being a part of one of college basketball’s most storied programs.

He enjoyed playing for legendary coach John Calipari.

He admired the beauty of Kentucky’s tradition-rich, 800-plus acre campus.

But …

“I need to be an impact player and have an opportunity to produce like one,” said Matthews, who went to high school at St. Rita in southwest Chicago. “I want the ball in big situations. I loved Kentucky and I loved the system we played. I didn’t want to transfer. Coach Cal didn’t want me to leave. But I needed a role change.”

Without the promise of a bigger role in the Wildcats’ offense, the 6-foot-6 Matthews chose to seek a new beginning at another school.

After one year at Kentucky, Matthews announced in May that he was leaving. Last week, he announced he was headed to Michigan.

Matthews had whittled his choices down to Michigan, Virginia Tech, Xavier, Southern Methodist and Illinois.

What made Michigan the right fit?

“The trust factor and the developmental factor,” Matthews said. “They have a great history with developing guards.”

Matthews is supremely gifted. He can shoot, defend, rebound and dribble. He can impact a game without leading a team in scoring. But he’s not the type of player who thrives playing off the ball.

“I can play off the ball, but I prefer to have the ball in my hands,” Matthews said. “I know I can score and handle the ball at this level.”

I have to admit, Matthews’ transfer caught me a bit off guard.

He’s one of the most respectful student-athletes I’ve ever covered. For a kid who had achieved as much as he did, Matthews remained grounded and humble.

He played in all 36 games and started three games at Kentucky. However, his numbers — 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds — were a long way from his senior season at St. Rita when he averaged 21.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.

This is a bump in the road. I’m not afraid of this. I embrace the challenge.

Charles Matthews

At St. Rita, Matthews never left the floor. At Kentucky, he averaged approximately 10 minutes per game.

However, the statistic that most caught my attention at Kentucky was his free-throw shooting: 41 percent (14-for-34). How could Matthews shoot 44 percent (23-for-52) from the field with a hand in his face and 41 percent from the line?

That type of figure from a player the caliber of Matthews suggests a lack of confidence.

He admitted as much.

“I need to get my confidence back,” Matthews said. “I lost my swagger, but I’m going to get it back.”

He’ll have plenty of time to do so. Per NCAA transfer rules, Matthews will have to sit out a season.

He plans to work diligently to regain the confidence that made him one of the top high school prospects in the country.

St. Rita Coach Gary DeCesare believes his former star player will regain his form.

“Sitting out gives him a chance to work on his game,” DeCesare said. “He has to work on his shooting. Charles is very talented and a hard worker.”

When Matthews returns for the 2017-18 season, he’ll still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Not that he expects to use all of it.

His dream, like most other basketball players, is to play in the NBA.

He acknowledged that his desire to chase that dream affected his performance this past season.

“I was in a rush to get to the NBA and it affected my game,” Matthews said. “This is a bump in the road. I’m not afraid of this. I embrace the challenge.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments