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Chris Dortch

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Wesley Matthews went from undrafted in 2009 to the Blazers' second-leading scorer this season.
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Who is the NBA's next Wes Matthews? These guys have a shot


Posted Apr 26 2011 8:37AM

If you talk to enough college coaches with NBA prospects on their teams, as I have lately, you quickly find out that Wes Matthews is the patron saint of the undrafted masses, a shining example of how, if you want something badly enough and you're willing to work hard to get it, good things can happen.

NBA fans are no doubt familiar with Matthews' story, because it's a great one. Undrafted in 2009, the former Marquette star was invited to play in the NBA Summer Leagues for the Jazz and Kings and was subsequently signed by the Jazz to a one-year deal. He played his way onto the roster and wound up starting after Ronnie Brewer was traded. Less than a year later, Matthews, as a restricted free agent, signed a five-year, $34 million contract with the Trail Blazers. He wound up the 2010-11 regular season as their second-leading scorer.

It's a great country, isn't it?

Matthews, undaunted by the draft snub, went out and proved what he always knew -- that he was good enough not just to play in the NBA but to become a significant contributor.

There will be another Wes Matthews in the 2011 NBA Draft. It's not a deep draft in terms of megawatt talent, but there are plenty of players who, if they can earn their shot, have a chance to impress, battle their way onto a roster and develop.

Who might those players be? Let's take a shot at identifying a few of them. Some have turned up on the various mock drafts, others haven't. All have the requisite traits: a bit too short or slow for their positions, maybe not a consistent enough jump shooter, etc. But all have those intangible qualities that could shine through in individual workouts.

E'Twaun Moore, Purdue

Moore was a scorer out of necessity at Purdue, but he doesn't have the size or the raw athleticism to be an NBA two guard, which means teams want him to prove in workouts he can play the point. Purdue assistant coach Jack Owens says he can.

"His knack is to score the ball, everybody knows that," Owens said. "But he did get us in sets and did a lot for us from the point guard position. His junior year, he led us in assists. He's got good vision, and if you ask him to be a point, he can do that."

Moore will have to continue to work on his lead-guard skills, but another comment from Owens justified Moore's inclusion on this list.

"In my three years here, he didn't miss a practice," Owens said. "He competes and works hard every day. He's a great example."

John Holland, Boston University

Forget the fact Holland was the only America East Conference player other than Reggie Lewis to rack up at least 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 200 steals in his career, or that Kansas coach Bill Self, after Holland scored 19 points against the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament, said, "he would be a terrific player in our league," or that Holland played well at Portsmouth.

All that stuff is important, but what's going to stand out about Holland is the interview process. When this guy speaks, NBA people will be impressed, not only with what he says, but how he says it. Holland is the well-spoken son of two educators who drilled into him the value of hard work and education.

Holland had zero Division I scholarship offers after high school and only a handful after a year in prep school. He chose BU because that was the best academic school on his list. He was smart enough to use the system rather than be used by it. And while Holland was getting a quality education, he never doubted he was a better basketball player than most college coaches thought.

"It's been nothing but hard work for the last few years," Holland said. "Both on the basketball court and in the classroom. Nothing is given to you. You've always got to work for anything worth having in life. And it's gratifying when it comes."

BU coach Pat Chambers was one of those coaches who invoked the name of Wes Matthews.

"You hope John can be another Wes Matthews," Chambers said. "Wes Matthews fooled them all. Before John went down to Portsmouth, he got a lot of good advice. And what everybody said was, play hard, defend and rebound, and let the game come to you. John's a little bit of an athletic freak, a guy who can jump out of the gym. But more important, he comes and works hard every day.

"I'll never worry about that, or his passion for the game."

Isaiah Thomas, Washington

He's listed at 5-foot-9 and may not be that tall. But Thomas is one of those guys, who, in coaching parlance, plays bigger than he is.

"He's got big hands and long arms, more like a guy who's 6-2 than 5-9," Washington assistant coach Raphael Chillious said. "He's deceptively long for a little guy. And he bench-presses 275, 280 pounds. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he compensates for that by being crafty and strong."

Thomas is also a gamer. He's more of a scorer than a shooter, but he never let that stop him from being willing to hoist a shot in the clutch. Some players recoil from late-game heat. Thomas lives for it.

"He already has that NBA mentality," Chillious said. "He's going to take that shot and live with it, whether he misses it or makes it."

For those who think Thomas is a two-guard trapped in a small point guard's body, he handed out 213 assists this season, second in Washington history.

"You could pick apart his game and analyze and find reasons not to take him," Chillious said. "But just watch him play and compete. That's what separates him from a lot of people."

Jimmy Butler, Marquette

It's appropriate to end this list with another Marquette player. Scouts know that, in order to get on the floor for Golden Eagle coach Buzz Williams, you have to defend and play hard. So the 6-foot-7 Butler has that going for him. What he also has, just like John Holland, is something upstairs. Williams calls him "the most intelligent player I ever coached."

"That's something that stands out about him; he's very intelligent," Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford said. "He's an extension of a coach out there. He knows where everyone's supposed to be."

The knock on Butler is his shooting range. But he's got great athleticism and uses it to get to the rim, get fouled and shoot a ton of free throws. And he can guard three positions. If all that sounds familiar, well ...

"He reminds me of Wes Matthews," Benford said. "A utility guy who lives at the free-throw line, can really guard, does a little bit of everything."

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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