Matthews out to prove himself

At last week’s Jordan Brand Classic, Charles Matthews proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he can hold his own against the nation’s top players. He’s hoping to elevate himself even further upon enrolling in Lexington for next season.

For a player ranked in the national top 75, Charles Matthews generated far less buzz this year than you might have expected. The Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita product committed early to Kentucky, and as we know most everyone assumes any Wildcat signee to rank among the nation’s very best.

That relatively low profile greeted Matthews as he entered his senior season, but he refused to play timidly or accept anyone’s modest expectations. By all accounts he enjoyed an outstanding year, leading St. Rita to a remarkable season in which he played the role of centerpiece. He credits his progress to some key areas of skill improvement.

”I worked on consistency, my jump shot and my ballhandling,” Matthews said. “I was able to create my own shot better, and create shots for others as well. We lost in the playoffs but had a great season, finished 26-4.”

Matthews’ first step now is a legitimate, high-major weapon

Matthews appeared quicker and more explosive off the floor at JBC than he did last summer. He didn’t always finish, but during the practices he was able to slash along the baseline and get high percentage attempts around the basket. His enhanced athleticism also should enable him to become a superior defender, particularly important given that he’ll be playing for John Calipari.

”My confidence has grown, my handle has grown. I’m just slowly getting better and better,” Matthews said.

Sizing up a freshman’s potential impact never is easy at Kentucky. The Wildcats suffer a mass exodus nearly every postseason, and of course they continue to recruit the senior class well into the spring. Even now, it’s impossible to predict Matthews’ immediate contribution with much accuracy, but personnel losses do appear to have opened the door for 2015-16.

It’s possible (that I could play more early),” he said, “but I’m still going to come in and just work for everything I get. I’m not too concerned about people leaving.”

But there’s still the elephant in the room. How rosy are his chances in Lexington given the continual stream of top-10 players? How many UK signees do not make the McDonald’s game, which Matthews did not?

Based on the most recent observation, he certainly looks ranked a little low at No. 65 in the senior class. And for his part, he seems to possess a driven, yet healthy perspective on perceptions and assumptions.

”I don’t let what others think of me as a player define me,” he said. “I still think that I’m a top player and will work to continue to prove that. When I get to Kentucky, I’m going to work my butt off to try to win as much as possible.”

Based on last week, his self-belief and work ethic appear to be paying handsome dividends.

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