The tweet says everything about Emmitt Matthews Jr. and his decision to return home after three years at West Virginia to play for the Washington men’s basketball team.
“Prayed for times like this.”
There’s also a collection of photos, including a picture of Matthews skipping in joy and exhilaration after the Huskies’ 60-58 win over Colorado on Thursday.
Washington would not have beaten the Buffaloes without his 15 points, 11 rebounds and three three-pointers in 37 minutes.
And the Huskies (10-8, 5-3 Pac-12) certainly could not have surpassed modest preseason expectations and put themselves in the middle of the league title chase if Matthews wasn’t enjoying a breakout season with his new team.
“The main thing for me was to find myself again,” said the lanky 6-foot-7 senior forward. “Being away for three years, I think what I lost (was) just not knowing how to play basketball. I kind of (lost) myself and the confidence, just being away from home and not seeing my family for so long.
“Then coming home to that, just kind of helped me get back to being myself and being more confident. I just wanted to do something big for the city and that pretty much is handling itself right now.”
For the record, Matthews had three productive seasons at West Virginia where he started 67 out of 92 games while averaging 6.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 21 minutes. During his tenure, the Mountaineers posted a 55-41 record, including 19-10 his final season in 2020-21, which ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Matthews developed a reputation as gritty and tough defender, but offensively his game plateaued, in comparison to his high-school days at Tacoma’s Wilson High when he averaged 22.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and led the Rams to the Class 3A state semifinals despite playing with a broken wrist during the playoffs.
At West Virginia, Matthews’ offensive production was considered a bonus. But the Huskies desperately need his scoring to supplement Pac-12 leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr.
“Certainly, we feel that on any given night, we’re good enough to where we’ve got several guys, not just 1 or 2, who can be a big scoring threat,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “But there’s no doubt, Emmitt has been as consistent and efficient as anybody. If you look at his numbers in the Pac-12, they jump off the page.
“He’s showing that he’s an all-league caliber player. … We’re trying to get him more touches and get him more involved because he has that ability.”
In eight Pac-12 games, Matthews is averaging 12.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 32.9 minutes while shooting 45.8% from the field, 44.1% on threes and 81.5% at the line.
In addition to another ballhawking defender in UW’s 2-3 zone, Matthews has given the Huskies an unexpected offensive outlet to pair with Brown, who averages 21.2 points.
Far too often, UW has been unable to rely offensively on guards Jamal Bey, Daejon Davis and PJ Fuller who combined Thursday to score eight points on 3-for-15 shooting.
“Emmitt brings that fire and that energy,” Brown said weeks ago. “He’s one of the guys that gets us going with what he does out there. He’s always flying around and making plays.”
When asked what does Matthews do best, Brown said: “Just make plays. I can’t point to any one thing. He’s out there dunking, getting his hands on balls. He can hit the three. … When he’s doing those things, we’re tough to stop.”
Hopkins considers the 23-year-old Matthews, a three-time All-Big 12 All-Academic selection who majored in sports management at West Virginia, one of the team’s leaders.
“With older transfers, there’s no BS,” Hopkins said. “They’ve already been coached a little bit. That’s one the greatest things about Emmitt. He knows who he is as a basketball player and a young man.”
In the first five games, Matthews connected on 3 of 18 three-pointers and he was shooting just 25% behind the arc (10 of 40) in nonconference games.
However, Hopkins continued pushing him to shoot and Matthews ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in three-point accuracy in league games.
“You can see great work ethics, he’s got really good mechanics and he wants to be good at it,” Hopkins said. “I love the way our coaches have given him confidence because we know that he can do it. It’s helped other parts of his game.
“If you know nobody is looking over your shoulder, then that gives you confidence. I’ve always believed that sometimes you got to let guys take bad shots because that allows them to make the big shots.”
During a 74-68 win at Utah on Jan. 6, Matthews canned two clutch three-pointers in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
Washington faces the Utes (8-13, 1-10) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena in a rematch that Matthews called a “must-win game.”
“If we want to get to where we want to go, then we’ve got to take care of business,” he said. “I believe this team can play in the NCAA tournament and I stand firm in that belief. I’ve been there. I know what that takes. … But before all of that, we only need to be concerned about what’s in front of us and that’s Utah.”
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