Mathews making the most of his opportunity at GonzagaPosted: Updated:
Jordan Mathews did not take his decision to leave California lightly. He enjoyed playing there, liked the area, had fun with his teammates.
Mathews just wondered if there was something more out there for him.
He found it in eastern Washington, where he joined Gonzaga's tight-knit group and helped lead them to the Final Four for the first time.
"It was a tough decision because I loved Cal," Mathews said Thursday, two days before the Zags face South Carolina in the Final Four. "But it couldn't have worked out better. It was worth it."
Mathews arrived in Spokane before this season as a graduate transfer, meaning he could play for the Zags right away.
Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss was eligible to play after sitting out a season, as was Johnathan Williams after his transfer from Missouri, giving Gonzaga an infusion of skill and experience.
Williams-Goss got most of the attention and lived up to it. The tenacious point guard was a first team AP All-American, the West Coast Conference player of the year and led the Zags in both scoring and assists.
The soft-spoken Williams gave Gonzaga a lift at both ends of the floor, a 6-foot-9 forward who can score around the rim, rebound and shut down the opposing team's best big man.
Mathews has done a little of everything during his short time in the Inland Northwest. Need scoring, he can do that. Need to shut someone down, he's got that, too. A big shot, he relishes the chance.
Mathews also has bought into the team-first mentality that makes the Zags go, a transition from his shooter's mentality days in Berkeley.
"He's made so many sacrifices to give up what he had to come to a team," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's given up minutes. He's given up shots. He's given up probably a little bit less of a role than what he had. But he wanted to win. He wanted to win at the highest level and be a part of a real team. And we both delivered on what we were supposed to. So pretty cool."
Mathews grew up around basketball. His father, Phil, coached for 23 years in Southern California before becoming the head coach at San Francisco from 1995-2004. Jordan also was once on the Teletubbies with his father, an appearance he still hears about.
"My mom watches it all the time," said Mathews, who's younger brother, Jonah, plays at Southern Cal.
A top recruit out of high school, he decided to play for Mike Montgomery at Cal. Mathews had a solid freshman season, highlighted by a 32-point night against Oregon, but Montgomery retired at the end of the season.
Mathews averaged 13.6 and 13.5 points in two seasons under new coach Cuonzo Martin, but decided after his junior year that he needed a change. Mathews did not want to sit out a season as a transfer, so he would have to graduate from Cal to play right away. That meant taking six classes in 12 weeks to get done in time.
"That was not fun," said Mathews, who is working on his master's in organizational leadership. "I'll never do anything like that again."
The three-month cram session paid off.
With Mathews providing the intangibles, Gonzaga (36-1) came within a few minutes of an undefeated regular season and went to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season after winning its fifth straight WCC Tournament.
The Zags reached the NCAA Tournament with the usual questions about how good they really are, but quieted doubters by reaching the Final Four for the first time.
Mathews has been a big part of it.
He leads Gonzaga in the tournament with 14.3 points per game and has made 11 3-pointers in four games. He hit the Zags' biggest shot of the tournament so far, a 3-pointer with less than a minute left in their hard-fought three-point win over West Virginia in the Sweet 16.
"It's about getting to a Final Four," he said. "It's what you dream of, what you grew up watching, so getting to the Final Four is icing on the cake."
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