Michigan hopes Matthews’ skills translate to game time

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Charles Matthews, who played on Michigan’s scout team last season, takes a shot on media day in Ann Arbor on Wednesday.

Ann Arbor — Charles Matthews is something of a man of mystery.

As a freshman at national powerhouse Kentucky, he was buried in the depth chart and was never really given the chance to fully showcase his skills.

That led to him transferring to Michigan last season, where he sat on sidelines in obscurity while waiting for his time to come.

And after lurking in the shadows, Matthews, a junior wing, is finally ready for the opportunity that has eluded him for years — a shot to shine and prove himself.

“Kentucky was a great experience for me. I really love those guys and the coaching staff and the university, but I’m just here for a fresh start, a new beginning,” Matthews said Wednesday during Michigan’s media day at Crisler Center.

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“It was an extremely tough decision for me leaving Kentucky. It took a lot of thought and a lot of prayer. I really had to think a lot about that decision, but I think this is the right move for me.”

It’s a move he sought out after appearing in 36 games and averaging a meager 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10.3 minutes under Kentucky coach John Calipari.

According to Matthews, he told his former high school coach, St. Rita’s Gary DeCesare, that he was attracted to Michigan’s style of play and asked if he could pull a few strings. DeCesare came through and Matthews was eventually put in contact with the Wolverines coaching staff.

“We just explained why I was leaving, what I was looking for and what they were looking for,” Matthews said. “We just felt like it was mutual benefits. I can help them and they can help me.”

Matthews played a key role on Michigan’s scout team last season, helping push and prepare the Wolverines in every practice — while also drawing rave reviews from coach John Beilein for his defense and athleticism — en route to a Big Ten tournament championship and a Sweet 16 appearance.

And while waiting in the wings and having to watch from the bench was a difficult process, Matthews heeded advice from senior forward Duncan Robinson, who had to sit out the 2014-15 season after transferring from Williams College: Don’t count the days, make the days count.

As a result, Matthews didn’t stress over not playing and let it negatively affect his mindset. Rather, he focused on honing and growing each and every aspect of his game.

“I talked to Charles a lot last year,” Robinson said. “Early on it can be you’re in a new spot so it’s exciting and maybe fun and you’re adjusting, but really the tough times come halfway through the Big Ten season when we’ve been doing the same thing for so many months here, you don’t play, you don’t travel, you watch the games at home on TV. Those are the challenging days.

“I just tried to be in his ear about that stuff and kind of push him along in that regard. I think he handled it really well and I think he helped us a lot last year helping us reach our potential.”

This year, Matthews will be counted on even more. Matthews said his goal is to be a "major contributor" on both ends of the floor, and he'll likely be relied upon to fill a similar role former Wolverine Zak Irvin played last year — log heavy minutes as a starter at the three and guard the opposition’s top player.

And unlike his days at Kentucky, he’ll get plenty of opportunities on offense, an area he’s had his ups and downs during practice while also showing promise. According to Beilein, Matthews made 65 of 85 3-pointers during one of the team’s shooting drills, but the next step is to “do that when the lights are on.”

“He hasn’t been on the court in a real situation, real minutes like I’m not coming out of the game and I got to make decisions since high school,” Beilein said. “It’s going to be a work in progress. … The challenge there is am I going to be able to do the things to win games? Can I make winning play after winning play whether it’s taking a charge, being in position to be in position, make a foul shot? All those things are evolving.”

And come Nov. 3 when Michigan opens play with an exhibition against Grand Valley State, Matthews' yearlong evolution will be put on display as he reintroduces himself to college basketball world.

“Sitting out a year can certainly (make you antsy)," Robinson said, "but I’m sure he’s going to embrace this process because like for anybody there’s going to be successes and you got to learn from both the success and the adversity.

“He’s ready for it.”