For locals Maten, Matthews, it comes full circle with a final Pistons workout

E.C. Matthews won a state championship at Romulus and capped off his draft workouts on Tuesday with the Pistons
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – In another year or two, the prospects the Pistons bring to town for draft workouts will have no memory of their 2004 NBA championship or even the run of six consecutive conference finals made by the Goin’ to Work gang.

So Yante Maten and E.C. Matthews, among the presumed last group of six worked out by the Pistons in advance of Thursday’s draft, are an endangered species. Both local kids – Maten spent the bulk of his childhood in Pontiac and went to Bloomfield Hills High, Matthews attended Romulus High – found a little special meaning in Tuesday’s workout.

“I think everybody remembers that,” Matthews said of the ’04 title. “Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed – all those guys. I used to go outside and try to emulate all those guys. Definitely remember that.”

“Ben Wallace, all of them guys. Those were my dudes growing up,” Maten grinned. “They inspired me to play basketball. I even tried to grow my ’fro out like he did. He had an effect on everybody in Michigan. That whole team was just great to watch as a kid.”

Maten’s workout was his 12th and Matthews, who rolled his ankle and sat out most of Tuesday’s drills, pegged his total at 10 or 11. They were thrilled that the draft process routed them to Detroit for its final tour stop. Maten was heading home to sleep in his own bed.

“It was an honor,” Matthews said. “I don’t know about all the other hometown guys that get to work out for this organization, but I felt very honored and blessed to end this experience in my hometown doing it for a team that I watched since I was a little kid.”

Maten and Matthews share another common bond: Both spent four – five, in Matthews’ case – years in college in an age where that’s increasingly rare for NBA draft prospects.

Then again, the odds don’t favor either Maten or Matthews actually hearing their names called Thursday night. Maten is ranked the No. 88 prospect according to ESPN.com, though he was among the invited to last month’s NBA draft combine. Matthews, who missed the 2015-16 season at Rhode Island with a knee injury, wasn’t a combine invitee and isn’t in the ESPN top 100.

Neither lack for a hefty college resume. Maten was a three-year starter at Georgia and averaged between 16.5 and 19.3 points each season while ranking among the SEC’s leading rebounders at 6-foot-8½. Matthews was a four-year starter under Danny Hurley at Rhode Island and averaged in double figures each season.

Maten declared for the draft last spring but decided to go back to Georgia, aware that the NBA draft tilts toward younger players who still have the veneer of potential covering them.

“That’s one of the things I’ve heard, but I’m willing to play anybody to prove who’s better,” he said. “But everyone’s just looking for that potential or upside. That’s the way it is. Can’t do anything about it but get through it and keep working and show my talents, whatever chance I get. … I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I’m just praying. God got me this far, so he’ll get to wherever I need to go. If I’ve got to take the back road to get to it, I’ve got to take a back road. But a front road would be good, as well.”

Matthews is selling himself as a mature, experienced player with a history of winning. He led Romulus to the 2013 Class A state title and will go down as one of the greatest players in Rhode Island history for a program that went 51-18 over his last two seasons.

“The thing about the draft, it’s a lot of younger guys so I think being an older guy, one of the advantages I have is I know how to win,” he said. “I have a lot of experience and even though I’ll be starting over at the NBA, I think I can bring an experience. I can learn things a little bit quicker on the fly. Winning is the most important thing to me.”

Something else Maten and Matthews will take away from their college experience that almost none of the players who’ll hear their names called in the lottery will achieve: a degree.

Matthews majored in communications and hopes to go into broadcasting. Maten, a few credits short because he couldn’t take a lab or two due to conflicts with basketball, majored in wildlife biology and can see himself working for conservation causes in Africa.

Neither would mind putting off those careers for another few years while they let basketball take them where it will. Neither would mind suiting up for the franchise that inspired their youthful dreams, either.