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By Todd Matthews | Capturing the winning qualities of South Australian basketball

Preface by Janx....

In my opinion Todd is one of those people that captures and embodies the qualities of the successful players and programs of South Australian boy's basketball - tough, skilled, supreme work ethic and believing you can win against all odds. These are the traits of successful teams that bind them together, make them value each other, trust each other, and want to go into battle together. If you are reading this from other locations in the world, I don't know, there may be some relevance to these traits in all parts of the world I guess. But I'm commenting from my perspective, where I'm from - South Australian Hoops. Thinking about the recent dominance of the U20 South Australia Gold Medal (Blog here: By Scott Whitmore | Our story and journey to become National Champions) winning team was often a case study of these traits too. The individuals in this team upholding this mindset and approach.

PICTURED: Todd is one of those men where winning seems to follow them.

Today's athletes have a more worldy view. More worldy goals and aspirations than in past years. Worldly goals for South Australia's elite youth boys seemingly more realistic today. Today’s kids dream of playing at division 1 colleges and the NBA. "Ingles has done it, why can't I?". With the current influx of South Australians beginning to move into Division 1 college basketball, compared with the past, there are more examples of young men making this level now as well. Again, this (growth in this pathway) is consistent across Australia. I feel that with these higher goals and aspirations kids have today it permeates through how structured their personal workouts are (see blog: By Andrew Jantke | Indy workouts.... AND a global shooting challenge; Can you out shoot these world class, elite shooters?), their strength and conditioning programs etc. There are more opportunities available so they are working harder and investing more to get to where they want to go.

Being a division 1 player right through all age groups I have to admit I generally preferred shooting hoops with mates than structured training regimes, maybe due to some of the coaching styles of that time. I loved the game though, used to love to just hoop with mates in gyms around Adelaide. Back in my day athletes were only just beginning to consistently cast their thoughts to overseas pathways, the focus was normally to merely end up in a local Division 1 men's (now called Premier League) side, for the elite to play in the much more open NBL, due to the number of teams compared to now. Division 1 level college basketball not even a consideration. So with team mates I had (shout out to guys like Ben Lomman, Pero Vasiljevic, Ben Mitchell, Mark Fenton, Darren Martin, Chris Mellow, Luke Townsend, many more), holidays were packed with lots of fun pickup games on courts all over Adelaide.

One of these guys I'd workout with a few times was Todd Matthews. Working out with Todd it was sometimes different, maybe representing the very beginning of what I see in today's workouts. He was probably a pioneer. We’d keep score, we’d do drills, it would have a structure and Todd would workout incredibly hard. Today, more often, kids do these kinds of structured, intense, scored workouts as I blogged about here.

You could see Todd was driven for something bigger, like young athletes often are today. His sessions in the weights room were something else. I won’t describe it all here, there are probably parts of what he would do that were maybe slightly dangerous but they were going to push the edge of his strength and conditioning.

Drop him off home and happen to peek into his bedroom and you’d see motivational posters and slogans plastered all over the walls. You could tell he was very focused on what he wanted to achieve.

Todd went on to go to play college at Oregon Institute of Technology, an NAIA school in the United States. There he helped build the school into a national NAIA powerhouse and the coaches there to this day talk about Todd’s successes and reputation in the program. After 4 years at OIT he returned home to Adelaide to home to play Premier League/ABL with the Norwood Flames for 8 years. He was in NBL Conversations regularly, such was his dominance over the South Australian Premier League, and before leaving for college and on visits home from college he would train with the 36ers.

His toughness, work ethic are legendary in contemporary SA basketball circles.

Today Todd heads up basketball at the elite Private High School in South Australia called St Peters College. A couple years ago his program won the state school championship for the first time in history, Todd no doubt having a role in that success.

A few years ago Todd was also invited to be guest speaker at our U16 SA Metro singlet presentation and his speech was just amazing. It had the team talking about the speech for years afterwards, it was so motivating and the great part was that I had seen Todd’s journey and he personally embodied many of the words he was speaking of throughout his life.

I’ve asked Todd to develop a blog based on that speech and who he is as a man. This will make a great read for young prospective featured athletes, their parents and coaches at all levels. We plan on really delving deep into the values, character, mindset and approach of athletes we respect and with our team develop a set of values that help make up the selection criteria for future featured athletes. Todd is definitely one person we look to in this regards. I feel he captures the essence of South Australian boy’s basketball successful elements in this blog.

Over to Todd……

PICTURED: National Championship BABY!!!!!

Matthews won a National NAIA title with Oregon Institute of Technology. No easy feat in the USA.

My most vivid memory of junior basketball was sitting in the change rooms of the old Forestville stadium, waiting to hear if I was going to be one of 10 players selected to the under 16 state team. Seven players names were read out before my name was finally called and I got up to join my new team.

In South Australian basketball, as in all states, there is an established hierarchy of the state's elite players in each age group. Having only just played my first season of division I basketball, I was not considered part of this exclusive group. I recall talking to the coaches (Richard Orlick and Travis Lever) about my selection afterwards and they had initially only expected me to make it through one cut. My dad told me later that he had come to collect me from the final selection for state trials expecting to ‘pick up the pieces.’ Even after walking out with my team I recall another player who had made it questioning my selection. In fact initially, I was the only one who thought I had a chance of making that team.

I love the game of basketball. I love the possibilities it presents to young kids, especially those who may struggle elsewhere in life and I am very appreciate of the opportunities it gave me. I dreamed of playing college basketball and my approach to chasing my goals was:

  • Push myself as hard as possible when training and playing

  • Ignore the negative comments that others will undoubtedly make about you while you are pursuing your goals

  • Don’t be afraid to get cut from a team or lose a game if you are giving it everything

  • Believe in yourself – even when others don’t

The speech that I gave to the Under 16 state team, which Janx has referred to, embodied this mindset. I quoted Roger Bannister, who was the first man to break the 4-minute mile. During the 1950’s scientists had claimed that breaking the 4-minute mile barrier was an impossible feat. Years after running the mile in 3:59.4 Roger Bannister stated the following:

“Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport, like all life, is about taking risks.”

At times prior to competing at the Australian Nationals, I have heard our young SA state players talk about the great players that Vic Metro and other states have. They sometimes have conceded defeat before they go to the tournament. Players who have a predetermined outlook of losing a game or having no chance against another kid have not taken a risk. I was urging our boys to work as hard as possible and not accept defeat simply because an opposing team had big-name players, which is how my under 16 state team won the Gold medal back in the day (Janx: note this gold was one of two in the at U16 Boys level for SA in past 40 years).

Throughout the many years I have been playing and coaching basketball, I have seen the vast majority of players play hard in games and train hard at practice. With an even playing field of effort, the most common factors people consider, for distinguishing the elite players from the rest, are skill level, physical attributes and game sense. There is an aspect however that I know is often overlooked: the level of training a player does by themselves.

PICTURED: Look out, make way for this guy coming through.

Matthews known as a tough competitor.

Many talented young basketball players have asked me if I think they can get to the US on a scholarship. Whenever I’m asked this question I always respond by inquiring about what the player is doing away from the court by themselves. What I am really trying to ascertain is how they are separating themselves from those they are competing with or what they are doing to keep pace with other elite players.

My approach to basketball always involved a high level of focus. I did not simply go out into my driveway or to local basketball courts and “shoot around.” I knew what I wanted to achieve during my training sessions and I always had a plan, generally one which was written down. It always included a series of dribbling, shooting, lay-ups and footwork drills among others and I would assess where my weaknesses were and look to develop them.

As I learned more about the game and effective methods of training my workouts, both on the court and in the gym, became more advanced and I began to pull further away from guys I was competing with.

There were so many instances in which I saw other players training by themselves or with a friend and I just felt it was all really half assed. Shoot, jog to another spot, shoot. Why bother? If you aren’t simulating a game with your training intensity you’ll struggle to progress.

On the other hand, I remember watching some of the 36ers that I was able to train with for a short period of time work out alone, such as Brett Maher, Rupert Sapwell and Jason Williams. There was a level of intensity to their sessions that left no doubt in my mind that they could repeat what they were doing in a game.

When I got to college this level of individual training was common practice for many of my teammates. I’d be training in the off-season and sometimes 3 or 4 other guys were working just as hard as me on other hoops. And many of my teammates had won a scholarship to Oregon Tech through these training habits.

It was a similar story for my teammates at Norwood who were standouts in the league. David Cooper was always focused –always looking to improve himself. Keith Krause and Andrew Webber never stopped shooting by themselves and they were always shooting game shots. Even after multiple knee surgeries Dan Thompson pushed himself in the gym to regain the strength and power he needed to beat opponents. It was this work away from team trainings and games that propelled us to making four straight ABA finals and winning two championships.

PICTURED: Matthews and his team wins again. This time with Norwood in 2008. The first of a rare 2, back to back, Premier League (then Central ABL) titles.

The purpose of training at a high level by yourself is not simply to improve skill and athleticism: it’s to develop confidence. If you are reading this, chances are you play or have played basketball and if you play the game, you’ve been doubted by someone or numerous people. At 5’9 inches tall, I know all too well how it feels to be scrutinised and criticised by others. Knowing that you have pushed yourself harder on your own will give you the confidence that you can beat someone else for a spot on a team or win games even when things aren’t going well on the court.

My advice to young kids who are looking to make a team or get to the next level would be go for it. Push yourself to the limit. Don’t be disillusioned by people who shed you in a negative light. Structure your individual workouts clearly, focus on improving technique and take some time to consider how you can improve and move ahead of the competition.

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