James Hawkins and John Niyo of The Detroit News break down Thursday's 63-44 loss to Texas Tech at the Honda Center and look ahead to next season. The Detroit News
Anaheim, Calif. — Teammate after teammate walked over and embraced redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews near the entrance of Michigan’s locker room.
While it looked like the scene of a final farewell, Matthews wouldn’t say one way or the other if Thursday’s 63-44 Sweet 16 loss to Texas Tech at the Honda Center was his last as a Wolverine.
"It's hard to even think about that right now,” said Matthews, who could return for his final season of eligibility or pursue a professional career.
“Honestly, after being around these guys for so long it sucks to end the season. I've got to go back to the drawing board and discuss with my family and the coaching staff about what lies ahead."
But gauging by what Michigan coach John Beilein said, it doesn’t sound like the Wolverines are expecting Matthews to come back next season.
"We're very sad that his college career is ending," Beilein said. “But he will work his tail off to have a successful career going forward, and he'll have a big imprint on Michigan forever."
When later asked about the foundation of the program, Beilein said: “I think we've got everybody back and we'll see. You never know. You've got transfers, guys will look at the NBA, the same old thing. Charles will graduate, so we expect him to go pro. If we have everybody (else) back, it's in really good shape.”
Before Matthews was honored as the team’s lone senior at the home finale on Feb. 28, he said at the time it was “possible” that would be his final time playing at Crisler Center.
Yet, with this potentially being his final go-around, Matthews said he didn’t approach the NCAA Tournament any differently.
"I’m not thinking about that type of stuff,” said Matthews, who finished as the team’s leading scorer (14.3 points) in three NCAA Tournament games. “I try to play every game like it's my last. My body can be beat up, tired, sore, but I'm going to try to give it my all every time I step on the floor. I think every game can possibly be my last, so that's really what my mindset was."
Last season, Matthews declared for the NBA Draft without an agent following an impressive stretch of postseason play. However, after suffering a wrist injury that forced him to cancel most of pre-draft workouts, he opted to turn to Michigan for his third season.
In the event Matthews does return, that would put the Wolverines over the allotted limit of 13 scholarships. Without Matthews, Michigan has 11 scholarship players returning and two incoming freshmen in Jalen Wilson and Cole Bajema.
That doesn’t take into account any possible transfers or other players going pro, like forward Ignas Brazdeikis, who was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and was the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game.
Like Matthews, though, Brazdeikis said, "I'm not thinking about that stuff right now.”
Junior center Jon Teske, sophomore guard Jordan Poole and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers could all possibly test the draft waters, too, due to new NCAA rules that were passed and will go into effect this year.
Among the changes, underclassmen can be represented by NCAA-certified agents without losing a year of eligibility, and those who request an NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee evaluation, participate in the NBA Combine and aren’t drafted can return to school.
The deadline to request an evaluation by the advisory committee is April 11 and the deadline to declare for the draft is April 21. Players will have until 10 days after the combine, which will take place May 14-19 in Chicago, to remove their names from draft consideration if they want to return to school.
While Matthews’ and Brazdeikis’ names appeared in mock drafts during the season, neither are listed in any major publication’s projections at the moment. Poole (No. 63), Matthews (No. 66) and Brazdeikis (No. 87) are among ESPN’s top 100 draft prospects for 2019, and Brazdeikis is projected as a late-first round pick (No. 29) in NBAdraft.net’s 2020 mock draft.