MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — It’s not the look of confidence that flows right out of Emmitt Matthews Jr. that is noticed first.
It’s not the new muscular physique.
The first thing that strikes you is for those who have had to look up to Matthews in the past, they have to look up a little more these days.
“Yeah, I’ve grown just a little bit,” the West Virginia sophomore forward said. “I’ve gotten a little taller.”
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds as a freshman, when Matthews admits he went through a long process just to figure out his niche with the Mountaineers, he looks to be pushing more toward 6-9 now and his build is a solid 200-plus. His shoe size went from 13 to 14 in the offseason, too.
“Emmitt’s really worked hard and is starting to come into his own,” WVU forward Derek Culver said.
That may be an understatement of sorts, as the Mountaineers are drawing closer to their trip to Spain on Aug. 3 to play in three exhibition games before the start of the fall semester.
A season ago, Matthews was a key reserve for the Mountaineers, one who had big-time dreams of becoming an early impact player, but that was before Tacoma, Wash. native really understood what it took to be an impact player at the Division I level.
“I had trouble just boxing guys out last year,” he said. “You go out there against guys who were 220 (pounds), or there were times I was trying to guard power forwards. I had to find different ways to get around them just to get a rebound.”
By the time Big 12 play started last season, Matthews had made just nine shots and no 3-pointers.
In March, Matthews was the biggest reason for the Mountaineers’ upset of Texas Tech in the second round of the conference tournament, when he scored 28 points and added eight rebounds.
As the Mountaineers embark on the road to improving from a 15-21 season, WVU coach Bob Huggins is not keeping his expectations of Matthews a secret.
“I would think today that he’s our most improved guy,” Huggins said. “He’s more aggressive. He’s gotten stronger. When you look at him, he may have grown a little bit. He really wants to be good. That’s the biggest thing. When you play and you see the fruits of your labor, so to speak, it kind of energizes you a little more. I think that’s where he is right now.”
Matthews’s translation: He’s no longer a wide-eyed freshman.
“I think overall, I’ve built my confidence back up to where I was at prior to when I got here,” he said. “I got here and tried to find a spot on the team. I was trying to learn and find my way. Now, I’m just playing and having fun again.”
Matthews now envisions a role of a sort of jack-of-all-trades. Huggins said there are plans at moving him to power forward in certain situations.
In others, “Whatever I can do to help win games,” Matthews said. “I don’t have to score 10 or 20 points. I could score five points and go out and get 10 or 15 rebounds and try to do something else.
“If I’m guarding the best player on the other team, I could have zero everything and hold him to less than 10 points and that’s pretty big.”