One of Wesley Matthews’ regrets is he didn’t become a gym rat until he got to college.
But the former Madison Memorial and Marquette athlete, who now plays for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, is making up for lost time.
Several times this summer, Matthews would be watching film and see an area of his game that needed improvement. So he’d call his trainer, Seneca Blue, to set up a session at the Memorial gym.
Blue would attempt to convince Matthews to take the day off as planned to give his body a rest, all the time knowing his plea would fall on deaf ears.
"I’d try," Blue said. "But he doesn’t listen."
Matthews’ work ethic has always impressed Blue. But it was even more noticeable this summer, and it’s not hard to diagnose the reasons why.
For starters, Matthews is trying to avoid a replay of last season, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard’s third in the NBA and second with the Blazers.
He used the words "frustrating" and "disappointing" to describe a lockout-shortened season that ended with a major overhaul in Portland.
The Blazers fired coach Nate McMillan during the season and missed the Western Conference playoffs after finishing with a
28-38 record that included a season-ending seven-game skid.
Matthews, in 66 games with 53 starts, averaged 13.7 points, down from 15.9 the previous season. His overall field goal and 3-point shooting percentages also were down from his first season in Portland.
"It was frustrating because when plays aren’t run for you, you get your game going through the flow of the team," Matthews said. "So when the team wasn’t flowing, I wasn’t flowing. When the team was flowing I was flowing, and that’s the way I want to play and felt good. And the next night, we’d lay an egg. That part got to me."
But Matthews sees reason for hope. Portland has a new general manager (Neil Oshey) and a new coach (Terry Stotts). The latter, who coached the Milwaukee Bucks for two seasons from 2005-07, has promised to run a fast-paced offensive system with an emphasis on 3-point shots.
Portland has reshaped its roster around star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, adding point guard Damian Lillard of Weber State and center Meyers Leonard of Illinois with the sixth and 11th overall picks in June’s NBA draft.
"I’m always excited to play basketball, but something is different about this year," Matthews said. "It’s a rebuilding year. The way things are shaping up in the West, no one’s really expecting us to do anything. So I like those odds. I like that feeling where you’re counted out."
Matthews also likes the idea of being counted on as a team leader. He was chosen to represent the Blazers at the draft lottery in May and raised eyebrows within the organization by volunteering to play with Portland’s entry in the Las Vegas Summer League.
"I think it sent a message, and I think that’s what he wanted," Blue said. "I think he wanted to prove to those guys that, ‘Hey, I’m committed to this organization. I’m committed to getting myself better. I want to be a leader and whatever I need to do, I’ll do it.’ "
Matthews was driven by something else this summer: the desire to take his game to another level.
It’s been well-documented how Matthews went undrafted out of Marquette and used that as motivation to prove he belonged in the league. He showed it as a rookie with the Utah Jazz, then signed a five-year, $32.5 million deal with the Blazers two summers ago.
The next step for Matthews is to go from being a good NBA player to being a great one.
"There are a lot of players that get the money and have mediocre stats and they’re OK with that," Blue said. "He’ll never be that kind of player. He wants to be an All-Star. I would never doubt that he’ll get to that point, just because of the way he works."
Matthews and Blue spent most of Sunday at Memorial hosting the Wesley Matthews Skills Academy. The camp was split into three 90-minute sessions — middle school girls, middle school boys and coed high school — and included about 300 participants.
Matthews hustled around the gym giving pointers while youngsters worked on the same drills he performs during his private sessions with Blue.
"I’m humbled," Matthews said of the turnout. "I’m excited that these kids want to take time out of their day and spend it with us in the gym.
"I didn’t become a gym rat until college, so that’s something that I want to instill in kids now: Be a gym rat. There are things that you can do on your own if you have access to a high school, a middle school, some other gym or your driveway. There are things that you can do if you want to be great."