With the USA College Basketball Season set to tip-off this week, there is no better time to shine the spotlight on a talented young man who is pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA.
Matthew Don is a 21-year-old London native, who grew up in Croydon. Growing up in Croydon was a “fun” experience for him, but it could be difficult as an aspiring basketball player, because he could “never find a court to practise at”.
Matthew is a power forward, who has been playing basketball for seven years, but what started off as a fun activity during secondary/high school, soon developed into passion. When he was about 15, a conversation between his dad and his coach helped Matthew to realise that he wanted to pursue a career in basketball, so he began taking the necessary steps to get there.
He not only played basketball at his secondary school – Archbishop Lanfranc – but he also played for club teams. He was a part of the Kingston Wildcats from 2009-10 and then the Westminster Warriors from 2011-12.
However, Matthew knew that if he wanted to play basketball at NBA-level, making a move to the USA would be the best step forward, and it was a decision that solidified in his mind by the time he was 17. Nevertheless, he found the scouting process hard, as he was “getting denied and getting no answers from coaches all the time”, but he never gave up. Matthew said: “I had to keep emailing them until I found a school that would offer me a scholarship.”
Matthew did succeed, resulting in him gaining a place at North Iowa Community College (NIACC), which is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. He played at NIACC for two years, where he had 16 double-doubles and left averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds per game – he led the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference in rebounding.
Playing at NIACC was a lot faster than playing in the UK and the players were more athletic. During his time spent at NIACC, Matthew learnt to “play hard every possession” and to not let other players get into his head.
Matthew has now made the transition to the next level at Cameron University – a Division II school in the renowned National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – where he will be studying Criminal Justice.
He is most looking forward to the competition at the next level, as it will give him the opportunity to play with some of the best players around in a situation where is the underdog, because as he puts it: “No one knows who I am”. He also said: “I’m hoping to gain a life long friendship my teammates… and to learn the skills I need to take my talents to the next step.”
Matthew has also had the opportunity to represent Great Britain as part of their Under 20’s basketball team in 2013 during the European Championships. He was able to come home with a silver medal, which he says is the highlight of his basketball career so far. According to Matthew, playing for a national team is “a great experience and opportunity. [There is] no better feeling than standing on the court with your national anthem playing”.
Matthew is a Brooklyn Nets supporter and he named his top three favourite basketball players as Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. However, it is Kobe Bryant’s work ethic that he is most inspired by, because “he’s been injured his whole career” and he has now come back from a major injury and is “killing it”.
Nonetheless, Matthew’s parents are the people who most inspire him, “because they worked hard to get me where I’m at, supporting me non stop from a different country”. He is also inspired watching the success of the San Antonio Spurs, a team dominated by foreign plays, as it makes him truly believe that it could be him one day.
Sport was a good tool for keeping Matthew off the streets and out of trouble – “[It] made me realise what I wanted to do with my life and how to get it. The streets couldn’t help me.” He feels that there needs to be a stronger focus on sports in our schools here in Great Britain, and that there should be more basketball services available within Croydon.
Matthew is determined to turn his dream into a reality and he encourages young people to do the same – “It beats working in an office from 9-5”. He took it upon himself to leave his familiar surroundings to further his basketball career, and he would recommend it to other young players, but “only if they are serious about basketball”.
Being a student athlete is no joke and Matthew knows what a tiring, difficult experience it can be. However, he keeps his “eyes on the prize”, stays focused and continues to grind everyday.
Matthew’s drive, courage and determination have gotten him this far and will continue to propel him further. His hard work and hunger to reach his dream has driven him forward and provided him with opportunities. He serves as an inspiration for young people of finding what you love and then going for it.
What is most special, though, is that Matthew has not forgotten where he comes from and what it did for him. He says: “If I make a big impact wherever I play in the future, I will definitely give back something to my high school and the coaches and to Croydon.”
Hopefully he will be able to help and inspire another young “Matthew” in the future to believe that they too can pursue their dreams.