As a freshman fresh out of Houston-St. John's High School in the fall of 1999, Carter was determined to come out for the men's basketball team in Stallings' first season. As it turned out, he could hardly have picked a more fortuitous time.
"He came to us at a time when, if the program had been on any kind of solid footing, he would never have been kept, based on where his ability level was at that time," said Stallings.
Stallings found himself with only nine scholarship players on the roster that first season, only seven of whom had played in college. Without a tenth player, it would have been difficult for the team even to hold an intra-squad scrimmage in practice.
"I knew I wanted to play basketball, and walk on at a bigger school," said Carter. "Once I got up here, I started talking to the coaching staff, went through a little tryout period, and made the team."
Along with another walk-on, Dan Kinzer, Carter helped lengthen Vandy's dangerously short bench. With his strong work ethic and upbeat outlook on life, Carter slowly grew into the kind of player Stallings loves to have on his team.
"Matt has really labored through this program for four years," said Stallings. "He's worked very hard to make himself into a very adequate practice player. And the few times we've put him in the game, he's done fine."
Carter has faithfully ridden the pine for four years, fully aware that he will only be used if there's a catastrophic foul or injury situation, or if the game gets out of hand one way or another. He's appeared in only eight games this season, averaging a little more than a minute per game, and has scored only five points in his four-year career. His personal highlight came in his junior year, when he logged ten minutes and a bucket in an ugly win over Cal Poly, and was named the Player of the Game by the radio crew.
In what may have been his only chance to score this season, he clanked two free throws at Rupp Arena on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, Carter told VandyMania this week that his four-year adventure with the Commodores has definitely been time well spent.
"There's a lot of stuff you learn just going through the practices-- what it means to work hard, for instance. I'll take that with me for the rest of my life. It will be useful."
What's the hardest part of being a little-used practice player? "The hardest part is those long days of practice-- those days after a tough loss when you've got to come out there and practice. You're really tired and worn down from school and all the other stuff, then you've got to go out there and practice. But it all makes you stronger.
"The best part has been the wins. We beat Tennessee twice my freshman year-- that was really big. We've had a lot of fun times after winning some ball games."
Sadly, the wins have not come as often as Carter or anyone else would have liked. This season's 10-16 record has come as a big disappointment to a team that set high goals in the preseason. Carter has had a birds-eye view of things-- what's his perspective?
"Going into the season I was really optimistic about how things would turn out," he said. "We've had tough breaks here and there, and sometimes we didn't come as ready to play as we should have. You start making little mistakes, and things start adding up. That's been our situation all year, and things have just kind of caught up to us."
Carter plans to graduate in May with a double major in Civil Engineering and Mathematics. He says that balancing basketball and academics is tough, but it has taught him to focus on using his time well. "You don't have a lot of time to goof around and waste time. You've got to practice, then get back and get your work done."
"Matt is a terrific guy," said Stallings. "He comes from a great family. We've benefited from his presence, his toughness and character, and we've really been happy to have him."
The Commodores (10-16, 3-11 SEC) host cross-state rival Tennessee (16-10, 8-7) Saturday night in the regular-season finale (7:00 p.m. CST, no TV, 95.5 WSM-FM). As he plays his last game in Memorial Gymnasium Saturday-- or, at least, has a chance to play in his last home game-- Carter hopes to have a chance to show his gratitude to Vanderbilt's loyal fans.
"The fans have always been really supportive of me, and I really appreciate that," he said. "They've been great the four years I've been here."
Last Sunday was Senior Day for the women's basketball team, and there were plenty of tears shed. Will there be any tears shed by Carter Saturday night?
"I can pretty much assure you there will not," he laughed.