Michigan coach talks about his team still being in the hunt for the Big Ten regular-season title despite Sunday's setback. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Charles Matthews’ journey to Michigan all started with a cold call in the spring of 2016.
After Matthews opted to transfer from Kentucky following his freshman season, Gary DeCesare, Matthews’ high school coach at Chicago St. Rita, reached out to Michigan coach John Beilein about a player he might be interested in.
As it turns out, Michigan was in need of an athletic wing to eventually replace Zak Irvin. What followed was an “unbelievable” vetting process where tons of tape was watched and plenty of calls were made. And when Matthews made his visit to Michigan, Beilein felt it was a natural fit.
For Matthews, his landing spots came down to Michigan and Xavier. But when he made the trip to Ann Arbor, he instantly clicked with assistant coach Saddi Washington and Beilein, and his dad wanted him to commit on the spot. While Matthews’ commitment didn’t happen that instant, he eventually did choose Michigan.
“We had no idea what we were getting as a man,” Beilein recalled on Wednesday. “No idea what we were getting as a defender.
“We're just so fortunate to have had him these three years.”
At Thursday’s home finale against Nebraska, Matthews, a redshirt junior wing, will be the lone player celebrated on Senior Night at Crisler Center.
While Matthews is a senior academically, he still has one year of eligibility remaining athletically. Yet, neither he nor Beilein could say for certain whether this will be the final home game of his college career.
“It's possible,” Matthews said. “I'm just trying to take everything one day at a time.”
Beilein has said in recent weeks Matthews will have “interesting decisions” to make this offseason and said Wednesday whether he decides to stay or go pro will be his choice. Matthews is projected to be a late second-round pick by NBADraft.net and isn't listed in ESPN's most recent NBA mock draft.
“We wanted to make sure that he had this opportunity,” Beilein said. “He's been here, he's going to graduate. He's not going to have to come back another year.
“We've had Senior Nights for guys before that had an extra year coming, so why not do it for him?”
Matthews, who is on pace to graduate with a degree in general studies, doesn’t expect to have a “big entourage” outside of his family on hand for Thursday’s game but does expect to play.
Matthews tweaked his ankle when he stepped on someone's foot in the first half of last weekend’s loss to Michigan State. He said playing through the injury was “probably one of the most painful things I’ve done all season” and added he has been "getting better" as he has slowly increased his workload at practice.
Regardless if this is it for Matthews, his impact can’t be understated. He arrived at Michigan during what he called a “redemption period” and, while sitting out due to transfer rules, made his mark on a scout team that helped push the Wolverines to the first of two straight Big Ten tournament titles and to the Sweet 16.
Then when he was able to suit up last season, Matthews played a pivotal role in transforming Michigan into a defensive-minded squad and flipped a switch in the postseason to help carry the Wolverines all the way to the national title game.
That led to Matthews testing the NBA Draft waters in the offseason without hiring an agent, which gave him the option to come back to Michigan. But a wrist injury cut the process short and forced him to cancel most of his pre-draft workouts.
As a result, Matthews returned for his third season, where he has served as a co-captain alongside junior guard Zavier Simpson and turned Michigan into one of the top defensive teams in the nation.
"Me and X, we never tried to say we're going to come in here and (become) a defensive team,” Matthews said. “We just said we want to turn this into a team with pride, a team that competes, a team that plays with passion. Credit to Moe (Wagner) as well. Last year I think we all showed that, and we've just got to come in and build on that.
“I feel like the reason we are good defenders is because we like to compete, and we have pride. We're going to make sure the next guy (defends) and we'll try our best to make him as well. Hopefully that lasts when I'm gone, whether I'm here next year or not.”
But while Matthews is still around, Michigan has business to take care of. The Wolverines are a game out of first place in the Big Ten standings and are in a position to possibly grab a piece of the conference regular-season championship with three games to go.
After that, there’s a chance for Matthews to help the Wolverines pull off a Big Ten tournament three-peat in his hometown of Chicago followed by another opportunity to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
And after that, who knows? But no matter how long the rest of Matthews' journey may last at Michigan, he’s going to make the most of it like he has since he arrived.
“It's been a hell of a ride so far,” Matthews said, “and I'm looking to create more memories while I'm here.”
Nebraska at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 9 Michigan 24-4, 13-4 Big Ten; Nebraska 15-13, 5-12
Outlook: Nebraska’s strength of schedule ranks 13th nationally, per KenPom. The Cornhuskers are 1-6 against ranked opponents this season and nine of Nebraska’s losses have been to teams who have been ranked in the top-15 at some point…Michigan is 7-0 against Nebraska in games played in Ann Arbor.