By Amy Ansalone, Knicks Fan Since '91
Disappointment quickly turned to excitement as A.J. Matthews was selected to join the New York Knicks’ Summer League roster. Matthews, a New York native has been a fan of the franchise his entire life and considers this opportunity a “blessing that he is getting a chance to show what he can do on a big stage” after not being selected in the NBA draft.
Academics caused him to fail to qualify to play at a Division I school, so Matthews bounced around from school to school, ultimately ending up at Long Island's Division III Farmingdale State. He had a chance to be the first player drafted from a DIII school in over a decade, but he didn't get to hear his name called. Luckily, the Knicks saw enough in Matthews’ determination and ball-handling skills to sign the undrafted free agent in hopes of him proving that his athleticism and defensive abilities can help bring them to the next level.
During his time as a center at Farmingdale State, Matthews was a standout on the court, showing constant improvement from his earlier years through this past season where he averaged 22.4 points, 16.3 rebounds and 3.75 blocks per game.
He wasn’t playing against Duke or Michigan, but there is no doubt that his impressive stats, mixed with his tenacity and perseverance, will put him in a favorable position to be noticed. Standing nearly 7 feet tall, Matthews’ size will be his biggest asset as he tries to show he can defend the paint, man the middle and go for rebounds. He says that his main focus is rebounding and that his ticket into the NBA is his strong defensive tactics, and that he "can run the floor a lot for a big man. I'm quicker than most big men, so I think I could bring that to a good team."
Ultimately it was his size and adaptability on the court that caught the eye of the Knicks during his pre-draft workouts, eventually leading to his signing to the Summer League squad.
Matthews, who led the NCAA in rebounds and double-doubles across all divisions, also has a slew of achievements and titles under his belt; he set 10 single-season school records and broke six all-time career records at Farmingdale State.
When asked if he was concerned with coming from a Division III team, he said: “I feel I have a great chance. People will always say, ‘he played Division III.’ I knew that from the jump. But I’m here to show my skill set and let them know I can play at a high level against this type of competition. Division III is still basketball. You still got to make shots and play defense. It doesn’t faze me.”
With Tyson Chandler being the only other center on the roster, Matthews could have a shot to provide depth. He has youth, size and impressive defensive skills on his side, hoping to show GMs and owners what they missed out on by passing him up. His ardent determination to succeed will be worth watching as the Knicks continue their Summer League slate Las Vegas.