Posted Dec 10 2009 11:39AM
The name on the back of Wesley Matthews' jersey, the name that he carries around in his wallet, belongs to his father.
The name Matthews responds to, though, and carries in his heart is strictly that of his mother.
"Pam Moore" doesn't resonate around the NBA quite the way "Wes Matthews'"does, considering the elder Matthews -- father of the Utah Jazz's undrafted rookie guard - logged nine seasons in the league with six different franchises, including two that earned him championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. You can look it up: That's Matthews, a lightning quick point guard from the University of Wisconsin, standing next to coach Pat Riley in the team photos from both 1987 and 1988, when the "Showtime'' squad responded to Riley's challenge to repeat.
And 1988 was right around the time Matthews exited his son's life. Wesley was 2 years old.
Pam Moore stayed. She's still with the younger Matthews today, everywhere he goes in the NBA, a part of her at his side as he earns minutes and seizes opportunities with the Jazz while she's commuting to and from her office job in Madison, Wisc.
Ask Matthews about his dad's influence on him as a basketball player and the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Marquette -- known more for his defense and toughness -- unveils one wicked crossover move.
"My mom," he said the other night after Utah's game at Minnesota. "I was raised by my mother. She was an athlete, too --- a Hall of Famer. Look her up. Track, basketball. Look her up. Hall of Fame."
You've got to dig a little deeper than the NBA Guide, but sure enough, there she is: Pam Moore, a Madison native who led the Wisconsin women's team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman in 1977-78 before devoting herself full-time to track. As a sprinter, Moore was part of a world-record team in the mile relay in 1979, set school records in the 400 meters that still stand, was a three-time Badgers MVP and was inducted into UW's Hall of Fame in 2006.
By then, her son was at Marquette, leaving behind some serious soccer accomplishments at Madison Memorial, the same high school where his mother competed.
In a way, she still is competing, through her son.
"Everything he knows about the game, I taught him," Moore said by phone, only half-joking. "Obviously he picked up things around the way. I was in a man's world when it came to basketball. In the AAU world, the traveling world."
Several of Matthews' youth coaches saw his skills and early size and wanted him as close to the rim as possible. "I refused to let that happen," Moore said. "I knew based on my genes and his father's genes, Wesley was not going to be more than, what, 6-5? Maybe 6-2, 6-3. So I had to fight to make sure that he developed his whole game. He had to 'play up' [against older players] for two years to make sure he was one of the smaller ones on the team, to make sure he'd be in the backcourt.
"Even then, coaches would tell him to go down low. I'd say, 'Don't disobey the coach. But every now and then, pop up. Face the basket. Try to take your man off the dribble. Don't always go in the post.' It worked out."
Sound like a stage mother, a little too pushy or involved? No, just a mother, father, coach, friend, fan and protector rolled into one. "What can I say, he's my guy," Moore said. "We always say, we're the 'Dynamic Duo.'"
It was a Duo rather than a trio or more because Wes Matthews Sr. went his own way, starting a new life in Atlanta (where he played parts of five seasons). In 465 NBA games, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 assists, though his most memorable moment --- aside from the Lakers' titles --- might have come in 1987 at the wrong end of Xavier McDaniel's vise-like grip. In an altercation with the SuperSonics' X-Man in a game at Seattle, Matthews wound up on the floor, McDaniel's hands squeezing tightly around his throat as the Matthews' eyes started to roll back in his head. The Seattle Times photo that captured it is as startling today as it was then.
"Getting choked? Yeah," the younger Matthews said of the photo. He didn't elaborate because, frankly, there isn't much to elaborate about. His father paid scant attention to him through the years. It was a big deal when he finally showed up to see him in a Marquette game.
"He and Wesley are trying to establish a relationship to some extent," Moore said. "But as far as growing up, no, his father was not a part of his development and raising him at all."
She and Matthews had met at Wisconsin. Their son was born in San Antonio during his dad's time with the Spurs in 1985-86. Once Matthews left, Moore never married. "I didn't open myself up to it," she said. "The way I work life, [focusing on Wesley] was what I was supposed to do. Especialy raising a young man. It was tough. I had to teach him."
Wesley Matthews learned well. His first three seasons at Marquette under coach Tom Crean were fine but, when Buzz Williams took over in 2008-09, Matthews' game blossomed in a more open, motion style. He still was thought of third among the team's three stars - behind Jerel McNeal and Dominic James --- but Matthews averaged 18.3 points (second on the team to McNeal), 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He helped Marquette to the second round of the NCAA West Regional and left as the school's eighth-leading scorer.
Now McNeal is playing in Belgium, James in Turkey and teammate Dwight Burke is down in Uruguay. It was Matthews who became the 43rd player from Marquette to reach the NBA. All it took, of course, was waiting for all 60 picks in the June Draft to be spent, impressing folks in the summer league and landing his make-good deal with Utah.
So far, Matthews has been making very good. He is averaging 8.2 points in 24.8 minutes, with 9.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 starts. As one might expect with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, Matthews' defense and willingness to dive for balls or do whatever it takes has helped, beyond Utah injuries that opened up playing time.
"Why not? So many guys want to be here, but they don't want to play all the time," Sloan said. "I give him a lot of credit because he's not afraid. He's not afraid to play the game and get out and get after people. Take the shot when it's there."
From undrafted to a starting spot: What's the key? "Heart. Toughness. Confidence. All that," Matthews said. "It didn't look like it was going to go my way. But I got a chance with this team, continued to work, continued to believe.''
Said Moore: "[Sloan is] exactly the right coach. I have a friend who follows the NBA a lot and, for the type of person and player Wesley is --- very high IQ, versatile player, hard-nosed defense --- the two places we always felt would be good for him were Utah and San Antonio. Wesley is a very system-oriented type of guy. He picks things up very quickly. He knows how to fit in. He's not high maintenance."
Sloan doesn't do high maintenance and, when asked, he said he doesn't see much of Matthews' father in the younger man's game. "We didn't pick him because of that," Sloan said. "We picked him because of what we saw. I don't remember his dad well enough to answer that question, to be honest."
Turns out, the question was about the wrong parent.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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