Brooklyn-native A.J. Matthews opening eyes before NBA Draft

Nets GM Billy King put the chances at "10 percent" for his team to make a trade. Credit: Getty Images
Nets GM Billy King hosted a tryout camp for college players looking to impress scouts before the draft.
Credit: Getty Images

Farmingdale State center A.J. Matthews grew up 10 minutes from the Barclays Center and has a sister working in concessions. If he can do enough to impress executives from teams around the NBA, Matthews might find himself stepping on the court to play.

The 7-foot-1 Matthews is not listed in many mock drafts but he has warranted some attention and took the first step toward possibly getting an opportunity by competing in the opening session of the second day of the NBA combine hosted by the Nets in conjunction with the Rockets and Clippers on Thursday.

The first step is showing he can compete against a higher level of competition than he faced in the Division III Skyline Conference. Matthews was not invited to last month’s Portsmouth Invitational, but earned an invite to Brooklyn after leading Division III in rebounding (16.3 per game) and double-doubles (26) while finishing third in blocks (3.67 per game) and 11th in scoring (22.4 points per game).

“When you’re playing 5-on-5, running up and down, it shows your stamina, your conditioning, your play against other big men,” Matthews said. “It shows your jumping ability as far as individuals you don’t really [get to] show what you can do against somebody else. I feel it helped me out a lot. It showed me I can [play] with these upper class guys as far as Division I, because I knew I could before I even got here. I wasn’t even worried about that. I just want to show everyone else that coming from D-3 I can play with other guys.”

It’s not the first time he has drawn attention from the NBA scouting community. During the season, scouts from the Nets, Knicks, Bobcats, Wizards, Pacers, Bulls, Magic and Lakers attended his games and watched as he generated offense mostly on high-percentage shots and put-backs.

To prepare for being on the court at the same time with 10 other players all from Division I, Matthews spent most of the past two months focusing on jump shooting in workouts.

He began to focus on the draft after his final college game, a 71-46 loss to Purchase in the conference tournament. In that game, Matthews scored 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting, including going 7-for-15 on jump shots.

“After the season, I really worked on it a lot as far as shooting jump shots,” Matthews said. “Guys are a much smaller than me [in Division III] and I feel like I didn’t need to shoot a jump shot or work on a 3-point shot because guys are smaller than me or out of shape maybe.

“So I feel like after the season when I come here, I know I have to work on a jump shot because I’m going to be playing against guys that’s much bigger than me, stronger, height wise and tall and whatever the case may be. So I tried to work on my overall game a lot but I felt like it got better, much better.”

Matthews did not start playing basketball until 11th grade at Harry Van Arsdale High School in Williamsburg. He caught some Division I attention from UMass, Rutgers and St. John’s, but it never materialized as he could not qualify academically. Instead, he went to prep school in Harrisburg, Pa. before going to Monroe Community College in New Rochelle, N.Y. and Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Matthews did enough in college to get invited to a workout with 43 other players looking for a chance. If he can succeed in the next stage, an individual workout with a team, he will become the fourth Division III player to be drafted and first since the Lakers took Devean George from Augsburg College (Minn.) in 1999.

Miami’s Scott works out for Lakers

Former Rice High School (Bronx, N.Y.) star, and close friend of Kemba Walker, Durand Scott was among those participating on Day 1 of the combine on Wednesday. The Miami (Fla.) product is currently not listed on any mock drafts but he is hoping that changes after playing point guard in the event.

“They bring me out here in the point and I just try and get my guys in the best possible position to get the basketball and just go out there and just try to be a leader on the court,” Scott said. “I think I did today and in the same vein I looked for my shot and hit a couple of 3s.”

Scott was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 13.1 points per game in leading the Hurricanes to the Regional semifinals along with Shane Larkin. It earned him an invite to Portsmouth where he scored 22 points in two games and earned a workout with the Lakers.

“It was great, different,” Scott said. “They were my first workout and I kind of got my feet wet and kind of see how hard it is and things like that. It went pretty well. All you can do is play as hard as you can and that’s what I tried to do.”

Nets begin draft prep without coach

Even though Nets general manager Billy King has yet to name a successor to fired head coach P.J. Carlesimo, their personnel department has spent the last year going to college games and other related events looking to see if anyone besides the obvious names might stand out when it comes time to find a player with the No. 22 selection in the first round.

“I think it’s always a little bit easier when you have a head coach in place,” said Nets director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky. “That being said, the one thing about Billy is that the personnel people have been out seeing these people all year long [and] we’ve done our homework. At the end of the day the decision will be made by Billy.

“The information will be supplied by personnel people on where we think this fits and how we’re going to list these guys in terms of order of preference. So the coach is always important but I think being here, knowing what the foundation is and knowing what our team looks like going forward puts us in position to do it without a coach at the present time.”

Polinsky did not get into specifics but among the players who impressed him were Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Baylor’s Pierre Jackson and Long Beach State’s James Ennis.

Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for news on the team leading up to the draft.


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