Yahoo recently published a profile of AJ Matthews, Farmingdale State center and favorite for Division III player of the year. It shouldn't be surprising that he's kicking ass at Farmingdale State—he's 7-1 and athletic, a late-comer to basketball but also the recipient of a good deal of coaching since he took up the sport during his sophomore year of high school, and determined to reach the NBA. He might just get there, too. For the first time since anyone can remember, NBA scouts are showing up at the Farmingdale State gym, meaningfully increasing attendance at games where fans show up not in droves but smatterings. Matthews can run, dunk, block shots—the Yahoo piece tells of him dominating pick-up games at West 4th Street in New York, games that aren't easily dominated, and he spent five years playing on a Lamar Odom-sponsored AAU team.
So why is he playing at Farmingdale State, the boondocks of a college basketball division that had its last NBA success in Devean George? In an NCAA environment that has seen academic scandal become more the rule than the exception—think Simeon High changing grades for Derrick Rose and allegedly letting someone else take his SATs, North Carolina athletes that don't know what a paragraph is, or schools like Western Oklahoma State College that exist partly to award athletes from elsewhere quick and easy credits—how did AJ Matthews, an NBA talent, end up ineligible due to academics?
Well, no one is saying Matthews would have fudged his SATs, but if you're going to try, it helps to know that the SATs exist:
The combination of Matthews' work with [family friend Chuck] Davis and his natural size and athleticism caught the attention of college coaches at UMass, Rutgers and St. John's late in his senior season. Unfortunately for Matthews, those schools quickly stopped recruiting him when they realized he had no chance of qualifying academically.
Since Matthews had never really considered the possibility of playing college basketball until his senior year, he admits he didn't focus sufficiently on his schoolwork. It also didn't help that he and his parents were naive about college basketball, that Van Arsdale High School changed basketball coaches between his junior and senior year and that nobody bothered to explain to Matthews the NCAA required athletes to pass standardized tests and certain core classes to be eligible to play.
When a college coach asked Matthews about his SAT scores during the final month of his senior year, he says he didn't know how to answer.
"I didn't know anything about it," Matthews said. "I said, 'What's the SATs? I don't know what SAT is.' I went back to my guidance counselor and the principal and asked why nobody told me anything about this, but by that time it was too late."
That'll do it. Matthews admits that it took a few more academic failures to end up all the way at Farmingdale State, but it seems safe to say that Van Arsdale guidance counselors missed a trick on that one. Can you imagine being a month away from the end of your senior year of high school and just then finding out what the SATs are?
Now, of course, if Matthews does make it to the NBA, he'll have the cleanest academic record of any professional athlete in ages.
h/t Brett K.