MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Emmitt Matthews Jr. kept noticing the #PressVirginia hashtag on SC Top 10. Steals and swats, strips and takeaways, five- and 10-second violations.
“One of the craziest defenses you’ll ever see in college basketball,” he said.
Mountaineers coaches hope to see the four-star pickup joining the highlight reels next season.
The agile, 6-foot-7 Matthews crowns a six-pack of newcomers who could recaffeinate West Virginia’s full-court defense in the aftermath of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. For sure, there are higher-rated recruiting classes across the landscape, yet few include personnel better suited for their future endeavors.
“I think Emmitt is a piece of what we need,” said WVU assistant Erik Martin, who led the cross-country recruitment on one of the Pacific Coast’s top prospects. Martin has apprenticed under Bob Huggins for the entirety of their 11 seasons in Morgantown, and tacking on Matthews dramatically raises expectations for the 12th.
“With Emmitt I believe we have the most talented team we’ve had since we’ve been here. And I don’t think it’s close.”
As offseason assessments go, there’s a whopper. One invoking the beloved 2010 squad and portending that sophomore center Sagaba Konate will eschew the NBA draft and return to school.
“Our Final Four team, one through eight, we’ll never have a better eight than that,” Martin said. “But if you go one through 13, this is the best we’ve had.”
Adding Matthews in May smacks of a game-changing bonus to fans. Martin is a fan of how the nation’s No. 123-rated prospect can fortify Press Virginia’s ballhawking traps, which often sprang leaks last season. And when 94-foot defense gets compressed to halfcourt, Matthews’ wingspan and lateral quickness provide another perk WVU hasn’t had since the Final Four.
“That (2010) team could switch one through five, and I think that’s where we’re at now, assuming Sags comes back,” Martin said. “Having to go against the press and then going against a team that’s switching one through five? We’ll be as good as we want to be.”
Within a six-week span of shuffling, Matthews escaped the UConn mess and found a vacancy at West Virginia thanks to Teddy Allen’s transfer. Within another six weeks, Matthews will graduate from Wilson High in Tacoma, Wash., and enroll at WVU for the second session of summer school that begins June 24.
He speaks excitedly about establishing long-distance relationships with fellow incomers Jordan McCabe and Trey Doomes, and how the Twitter monogram “JET” quickly sprang up using the trio’s first names.
And other groupings are at play, with Matthews potentially joining Beetle Bolden, Wesley Harris, Doomes and Derek Culver in a lefty-dominated lineup. (“Left-handers are always so difficult to guard,” Martin said. “If a left-hander develops a right hand, he’ll be more dangerous than if a right-hander develops a left.”)
Most of all, Matthews sounds eager to jump into Year 5 of Press Virginia, chasing and pestering opponents with the tenacity that twice made Carter the nation’s top defender.
“It’s fun to lock down somebody,” he told MetroNews “Statewide Sportsline” on Tuesday night. “Ripping somebody at the top, taking it to the other end and dunking it, and being able to talk mess and get into somebody — that’s a fun thing to me.”
Three Sweet 16 trips across four seasons were fun for the Mountaineers, though tastier heights awaited the past two tournaments had they maintained second-half leads against Gonzaga and Villanova. (“We’ve been to our share of Sweet 16s, and those are nice when you get out of the first weekend,” Martin said. “But it’s about time to go to that next level.”)
Now Matthews leads a trove of fresh reinforcements to a roster that — pending Konate’s decision — returns the second-most player-minutes in the Big 12 behind TCU.
Recent summers have dented West Virginia with two knee injuries and Esa Ahmad’s hefty suspension, so it may seem like an eternity until the Nov. 9 season opener vs. Buffalo. But the six months between now and then just became more enticing.