UK Recruiting

Though his stock has declined, skills of UK signee Matthews haven't, high school coach says

St. Rita's Charles Matthews brings the ball up court and is name the MVP OF THE GAME. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media.
St. Rita's Charles Matthews brings the ball up court and is name the MVP OF THE GAME. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media. Sun-Times Media

Skal Labissiere is being touted as a possible No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Isaiah Briscoe is drawing rave reviews for his point guard play and was Kentucky's lone representative at this year's McDonald's All-American Game.

Charles Matthews, the first player to commit to John Calipari for next season, has become the forgotten member of this recruiting class of 2015.

The Chicago native was considered a top-15 prospect by every major recruiting service when he picked the Cats in February 2014.

In the months that followed, he dropped. And dropped. And dropped.

Now he's ranked no higher than No. 42 in the country and as low as No. 68.

UK fans who have grown accustomed to seeing single-digit numbers assigned to the rankings of their future players probably don't expect much from Matthews.

That's unwise, say those who know him best.

St. Rita Coach Gary De Cesare hasn't been shy about his confusion over Matthews' drop in the rankings.

"All I know is, Charles can shoot, he can dribble, he can rebound, he can defend, he has a short game, he can hit the three," DeCesare said. "You give me any three of those things and, to me, that's going to be one of the best players."

Even those who don't have Matthews ranked among the very best players in the country acknowledge the kid can play.

Scout.com considers Matthews to be the No. 65 overall recruit for 2015, and Scout's Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Thursday that he was "pretty comfortable" with that ranking.

Still, he expects to see Matthews contribute as soon as he gets to Lexington.

"I think he'll excel in up-and-down basketball, getting out in transition and bringing energy," Daniels said. "I think he has a chance to be a good defender. I could see him filling kind of a DeAndre Liggins-type role at Kentucky.

"He's certainly gifted and talented enough. ... He has a chance to carve out a role for himself as a freshman, certainly."

Matthews had a stellar senior season, averaging 22 points per game — including five 30-point-plus outings — and leading St. Rita to a 26-4 record.

DeCesare said Matthews, who's often quiet off the court, developed into a vocal leader to his younger teammates. And — even when he had an off night offensively — Matthews did what was necessary to get his team a victory.

"The problem is, if you're going to Kentucky and you score 10 points, people think you're not playing well and you've had a bad game," DeCesare said. "He just does a lot of different things on the court. He doesn't just score.

"Charles can control a game and score eight points. He did whatever we needed him to do to win. ... He's a great student and understands the game."

He played well enough to earn an invitation to this week's Jordan Brand Classic, which now rivals the long-running McDonald's All-American Game as a premier showcase for the nation's top high school players.

This was also supposed to be one more opportunity for Matthews to prove himself against the best of his peers in a game that includes fellow signees Briscoe and Labissiere, and top UK targets Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman and Stephen Zimmerman.

DeCesare pointed out that Matthews was injured for much of last spring and summer, which was when he dropped in the rankings.

The coach thought scouts unfairly placed his star player because he wasn't healthy enough to showcase his full game, though he noted that Matthews never once complained about the rankings.

"He's the type of kid that doesn't let that stuff bother him," DeCesare said.

Unfortunately, Matthews won't be at full strength Friday night, either. He took a nasty fall in Wednesday's practice and ended up with a sore back and wrist.

Matthews didn't practice Thursday, but his mother told the Herald-Leader that he shot around on his own and felt OK. He's expecting to play Friday. "Keeping my fingers crossed," said Nichole Matthews. "He worked so hard for this."

DeCesare is at the Jordan game, too, coaching the East team that includes all three UK signees. He said he told Matthews to "just have fun" this week because it's going to get serious soon enough.

And he's expecting big things when that time comes.

"He's going to work hard," DeCesare said. "He's going to be a solid kid on and off the court. He's just got to continue to do what he's been doing. Stay focused. And just keep working."

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