You can’t take anything away from Wesley Matthews.
He’s beaten the odds, making it to the NBA the unconventional way, and he continues to prove why he’s worthy of all of our praise.
It’s hard to think that the 24-year-old Matthews, an undrafted hoop star out of Marquette, is only in his second year and putting up huge numbers over his fellow classmates.
The 6-5 guard has started 43 of 56 games. He ranks third in scoring among sophomores with 16.5 points per contest and first in 3-pointers made (105) and attempted (265). Not to mention, he sits second in free throws with 189 made and 227 attempted.
Big numbers for the San Antonio native whose success didn’t come easy.
“He’s a guy who had to get in the league through the back door,” says Trail Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan. “Everything he has got, he has had to earn.”
It’s a quality that has stuck with the All-Big East Second Team rep, even after the 2009 NBA Draft, when his name went uncalled.
Matthews ranked eighth in scoring (1,673) and third in games played (127) at his college, but making it in the NBA would be a dream he had to earn the hard way.
“That’s pretty much where we are,” says McMillan about Matthews and the demeanor of his team. “Anything that we get, we have to earn it and we have to work for it.”
Matthews learned, even if it means playing on a tweaked ankle to get a win, he’s going to do it.
“He won’t sit down,” says McMillan. “Within the last two or three weeks, he’s been playing on bum ankle.”
“When it comes to the type of pain I’ve seen him in, it would have kept some guys out,” he continues. “Not only has he played through it, he’s played well. So that is toughness.”
Against the Hornets on Wednesday, Wesley scored 24 points and a team-high eight rebounds for a 103-96 win at the Rose Garden to push Portland to its longest winning streak of the year of six games.
But what was more significant is how the Trail Blazers, who moved into the No. 5 seat in the West, found a way to win.
“Rebounding,” says Matthews, who wrestled down four in the final period to outrebound New Orleans, 11-6, after going into the fourth down nine boards.
“That’s what it’s going to come down to,” says Matthews, “the scrap of the game and the guts of the game, and we were able to pull it out.”
Hearing that made me understand why McMillan said when he's out on the court hustling, “he doesn’t want to leave the floor.”
There’s something that ticks inside Matthews every time he steps onto the court.
Whatever it is, it has helped him reemerge back into the offensive spotlight after totaling just 12 points and shooting 4-of-19 against Chicago and Toronto last week.
In his last three games, Matthews has scored 26, 23 and 24 points and has averaged 54.8 percent from the floor, while draining at least two threes in each contest.
“I think he still has to bring it,” says McMillan. “Increasing his minutes and eventually putting him into the starting lineup, he’s been pretty consistent with what he brings night in and night out. And I think he can be even better.”
That’s just the type of fuel an already driven Matthews thrives on.
“Theses games that are coming up, this is why we brought Wesley here,” says McMillan of the upcoming homestand featuring the Lakers, Nuggets, Hawks and Rockets. “To play in this atmosphere and to play against teams like this. To bring his attitude and his work ethic.”
His attitude: stay motivated.
“We have to stay hungry,” says Matthews, “and keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
But for now, Matthews can enjoy all his hard work that will be showcased in the All-Star Rookie Challenge tonight at 6 PM on TNT.
He represents a man who was looked over, a city that supported him and the drive and guts it takes to make it in this game.
“I don’t know what’s in store for me, but I’m excited,” says Matthews of his All-Star trip. “It’s an exciting time for my family and I’m just blessed.”