Utah Jazz: Matthews out to make name for himself
Wesley Matthews was still at Marquette, heading to Big East Conference media day in New York, when he crossed paths with Magic Johnson at the airport. No introductions were necessary as Johnson approached, joking in half-astonishment, "I knew you when you were this big."
"You're kind of stunned for a little bit," Wesley said. "You're just kind of like, 'Oh . . . hey.' But it was cool. You can't really put it into words, someone that's done so much for the game and is such an icon to the game to actually know who you are. It's just a good feeling."
The 23-year-old guard can't be considered just another undrafted rookie trying to make the Jazz roster this month. Not with a father, Wes Matthews, who played on two championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s as part of a nine-year NBA career.
Not with a father who was a former first-round draft choice, played for six teams and incredibly can call himself a former teammate of Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins and Johnson.
"He played with everybody," Wesley said. "That was his time. He was in there when the guns were there."
If Wesley, though, was interested in forging his own identity, he couldn't have done much better this preseason. A week before opening night, he has made a strong case for a spot on the Jazz's roster and a future in the NBA.
With C.J. Miles out after undergoing thumb surgery and Kyle Korver missing all but one game with an inflamed left knee, the Jazz might be forced to carry a 14th player despite their luxury-tax payroll. That player, in turn, could be Matthews.
"It'd be a dream come true," said Wesley, who announced himself with a 16-point effort in the Jazz's Oct. 6 loss to Chicago in London. "It's just something that I've always wanted to be, something I was always inspired to be a part of. I'm very close right now."
From Atlanta, where he works as a private trainer, the elder Matthews can sense it, too. He visits the Jazz's Web site every day, following his son's progress, and greeted a reporter over the phone by asking, "Has the little fella made the squad yet?"
"God knows, if I was 6-foot-5, 220, I'd probably still be in the league 25 years later," Wes said with a laugh. "To have my son walk in my shoes, to have him live his dream, it's just overwhelming for me and I'm just proud of him."
Wesley was born Oct. 14, 1986, in San Antonio, where his father wasplayed the previous season for the Spurs. One of Wes' teammates that season happened to be a rookie named Tyrone Corbin. As fate would have it, Corbin now is a Jazz assistant coach.
While Wes joked about his former teammate looking out for his son, Corbin said: "I think he's looking out for himself. He's doing a good job. He's a tough guy, he understands the game, and he's giving himself a great chance to make this team, so I'm rooting for him."
For his part, Wesley doesn't shy away from talk of his father -- he grew up with his mother, a former track standout herself, in Madison, Wis., and describes his relationship with Wes as "growing" -- but he doesn't broadcast the fact, either.
"I don't go around bragging or boasting about it in any way, shape or form," he said. "That was really his life. Is it something I'm proud of? Yeah. And I hope to be a part of [the NBA], too."
His own man
All his life, Wesley has sought to be his own person. He headed to college at Marquette, not Wisconsin like his father.
He wears Jordan's No. 23, not his father's No. 1. And he prefers to be called by his full first name -- he is actually Wes Matthews IV on his birth certificate. Nothing would be more distinctive, though, than defying the odds and making it to the NBA with the Jazz after going undrafted. Wesley has started three times this preseason and is averaging 7.6 points in 20.9 minutes.
Wes described draft night as a punch to the gut, but said he offered his son the following advice: "It's not over yet. God still has a plan for you, so continue to work hard. Don't get down. You know, be upset for a minute, but use that as fuel to the fire."
"I knew that we just had to go the long route," Wes added, "and thank God he ended up going to a great situation in Utah."
The Jazz opted to select Michigan State center Goran Suton with their No. 50 pick in the second round, but were on the phone with Wesley to express their interest before the draft was even over, general manager Kevin O'Connor said. Wesley ended up playing for the Jazz's summer-league team. He averaged just 6.2 points and shot 34.8 percent for the week in Orlando, Fla., but impressed Jazz coach Jerry Sloan with his play in practice.
That doesn't come as a surprise to Marquette coach Buzz Williams, who said Wesley in practice was "the best I've ever seen in my career," adding that he was beloved by everyone around the program from coaches to teammates to fans to reporters.
"I love him whether he plays in the NBA one game or 1,000 games," said Williams, who has had Marquette's sports information director text messaging him with updates during the Jazz's preseason games.
"I know that it's a dream and it would be a lifelong dream fulfilled. I think he'll somehow find a way to hang around and hang around and hang around. There's nothing bad about that. A lot of people can't do it."
A big endorsement
Deron Williams has endorsed Wesley a handful of times this month. "He's come in here and worked hard," Williams said. "He's done a great job, put himself in a good position to make this team."
From his father, Wesley already has a set of championship rings all his own. The Lakers not only gave them to every player on their 1987 and 1988 title teams, but to their family members as well.
Wesley keeps his in a room at home, admitting: "I've worn it like twice. It was always too big for me, though."
The two Matthews couldn't be more different as players. Wes was an undersized scorer whose speed and quickness were trademarks. Former Lakers teammate Mychal Thompson described him as capable of staying out all night, then destroying you in practice.
"His dad was a great athlete, a very underrated player," Thompson said. "Nobody could keep up with him. He was so quick and had so much energy and stamina. He was just on the wrong team."
Wes averaged a little more than 12 minutes a game in his two seasons with the Lakers, playing behind Johnson, Michael Cooper and Byron Scott.
"I said, 'Man, Wes, if you played with somebody else you could be a star in this league,'" said Thompson, who made a point of watching Wesley at Marquette every chance he got. "He had a lot of talent and toughness and I see those same traits in his son."
Wesley was too young to have any memories of his father's playing days, though he has seen pictures. Wes said playing on the Lakers' championship teams was the highlight of his career. In fact, he played in just one more game (with Atlanta) after leaving Los Angeles.
"There's nothing like being a part of a world championship, back-to-back teams," Wes said, "where you're able to be the best 12, 14 players in the business that year and you're able to walk and get the ring from the commissioner. There's no bigger thing than that."
'Up close & personal'
Wesley's greatest strength comes with his versatility, Buzz Williams said. Not only can he play multiple positions, he can defend them as well. As the son of a former player, "There's not anything you're going to tell him in a basketball sense that he hasn't heard before."
"Wesley is not unlike most kids growing up, wanting to play in the NBA," Williams added. "The thing that was beneficial to him was even though that was his dream, he was able to see it up close and personal."
He already has met Johnson and Pat Riley, his father's coach with the Lakers. There will surely be more connections where that came from, with Wes joking, "As far as basketball is concerned, he has a lot of uncles he doesn't know about."
The two Matthews have talked with greater frequency in recent months, with Wes offering some advice to his son before he headed to training camp in Utah.
"I said, 'Just be your own self,'" Wes said. "'Go in there and work hard. Shoot the ball well and be a team leader. Make stuff happen.' When you've got an All-Star guard in Deron Williams, there's not a lot to do but just to play off him."
Don't expect much in the way of celebration on Wesley's part if he does make the team. The Jazz have until Monday to set their roster.
"There's no time for that," he said, adding, "It'd be a dream come true, but I wouldn't just be content with it. I want to be the best that I can be and give as much as I can. I don't want to leave any doubt, nothing in the tank."
Wes Matthews, father of Jazz rookie Wesley Matthews, played for six teams during his 11 seasons in the NBA (1980-90). Some of his more notable teammates:
» Washington Bullets: Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Rick Mahorn, Mitch Kupchak, Kevin Grevey
» Atlanta Hawks: Dominique Wilkins, John Drew, Dan Roundfield , Spud Webb, Doc Rivers, Kenny Smith
» Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones
» Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan, Orlando Woolridge, Sidney Green
» San Antonio Spurs: Artis Gilmore, Alvin Robertson, Tyrone Corbin , Marc Iavaroni
» Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper