The Rutgers men’s basketball team has entered the second half of January with a 2-5 record in Big Ten play and an 12-8 record overall, coming off a complete effort in a win over Iowa on Wednesday. They continue to battle in hopes of producing the first winning season in 12 years and finish better than last place in the Big Ten for the first time ever. Despite the loss of senior captain Mike Williams, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury, Rutgers continues to move forward with strong defensive play and a team first approach. However, in looking at the big picture, a major positive is that head coach Steve Pikiell continues to add talent to the program. No future Rutgers player is higher rated or has inspired hope more than 4-star guard Montez Mathis, who signed as part of a three-man 2018 recruiting class back in November.
The consensus top 100 recruit is having a strong senior season and for those that were off of work this past Monday, hopefully you were able to tune in to Mathis playing in a game that included four other top prospects in the class of 2018. If you don't follow us on twitter, you probably missed this.
Mathis plays for The John Carroll School in Maryland and is teammates with 5-star point guard and Kentucky bound Immanuel Quickley. They took on New Jersey's Hudson Catholic at the prestigious Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts and while Mathis' team lost 71-58, there were some positive takeaways from watching the future Rutgers guard in action.
Mathis is an athletic, two-way player who looks to attack the rim at all times and has big game experience. In this particular contest, Mathis led John Carroll with 22 points on 9 of 19 shooting from the floor and added three steals. There was one play in the first half that stuck out, when Mathis drove baseline on 5-star forward Louis King and was able to get to the rim, edging just past him. He missed his initial shot, but with a quick bounce, he gracefully grabbed the offensive rebound and scored the putback finish with just one touch and zero hesitation.
The offense of John Carroll wasn't very active in the halfcourt and when Mathis had the ball in his hands, he looked mostly to take his man one on one and was effective with dribble penetration in getting to the rim. One thing Mathis does very well is drive under control in traffic and has the ability to draw contact, which should help him to get to the free throw line often at the next level. He was 3 of 4 from the charity stripe on Monday and has a smooth stroke from the line. He also made one three-pointer, but needs to work on having a quicker release.
While Mathis is raw and needs to get stronger in order to flourish in the rugged Big Ten, he has plenty of talent and potential. He already has one trait that Rutgers needs desperately, as Mathis has the look of a natural scorer. His playmaking abilities and intuitiveness on the court stand out. Another positive is that Mathis is a player who has already bought in on the defensive end, something that is not a given with top recruits at the high school level.
Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell and assistant Brandin Knight were seated along the baseline for this game, as were many other college coaches, including Oregon head man Dana Altman. Four of the five top 100 recruits in the game have already signed, including King (Oregon), Luther Muhammad (Ohio State), in addition to Quickley (Kentucky) and Mathis (Rutgers). The lone prospect who has yet to sign that was featured in this game was Hudson Catholic’s Jahvon Quinerly. I covered his recruitment in more detail here, but Rutgers is clearing in hot pursuit of the elite floor general. Villanova appears to be the favorite to ultimately land Quinerly, but you have to love the hustle of Pikiell in making a run fo him.
In regard to Mathis, here is a highlight of him flashing his athleticism in Monday’s game:
One college basketball writer for Fansided took note of Mathis during the action as well.
Montez Mathis is a fine player. 6’4 wing who gets after it on both ends. In my top 90.— Gabe (@AllDaySportTalk) January 15, 2018
Mathis has been consistently good during his senior season and he received player of the week accolades in early December.
While Rutgers has shown major improvement on the defensive end this season, it's been a struggle offensively. Steve Pikiell needs playmakers added to the roster for next season and beyond. Geo Baker has fit that bill in his debut campaign at Rutgers and was just named by BTN’s Alex Roux as the most impressive freshman in the Big Ten this season so far. Adding Mathis to the same backcourt with Baker for multiple seasons, as well as possibly Corey Sanders for his senior year, should make Rutgers fans full of optimism for the future. While he will need time to adjust to the rigors of high major college basketball, Mathis will compete for a starting spot from day one and should benefit greatly from the coaching of Pikiell, Knight, and the rest of the coaching staff. He has played multiple games against many of the top recruits in the 2018 class and had a strong summer in AAU play, in addition to his very good senior campaign so far. He is a dynamic scorer who has a workmanlike approach and will bring toughness to the program. The signature member of the 2018 class will come to Rutgers looking to help Baker and others change the narrative about the program. The future is certainly brighter with Montez Mathis headed to the banks next season.
Check out multiple highlights of Mathis from various points during his senior season, as well as the last clip showing his raw power in attacking the rim during AAU action from this past summer.