MEN'S BASKETBALL: Sweet Release
Former BC Forward Matt Humphrey Eyes The NBA After Trying Collegiate Journey
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 19, 2013 12:09
He walked out of the locker room at Philips Arena in Atlanta, headphones around his neck, heading to board the bus by himself. It was March of 2012, and Matt Humphrey had already changed out of his Boston College basketball uniform for the last time.
In the room he had just left, nine freshmen spoke of their disappointment in a 9-22 finish and the first-round defeat they had just suffered at the hands of North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament. But their words were all delivered in an upbeat tone, positivity clearing its way through the heartache.
Humphrey was stopped by a reporter in the hallway on the way to the bus. The reporter asked him if he had time to talk, and Humphrey leaned his back against the wall for support, the kind of support he could never secure during the first four years of his college basketball career. He was in his own world. Slowly, he answered questions about next year, what would be his last as a college athlete. His voice came across calmly, but his body language screamed frustration.
“It’s real trying,” Humphrey said of his first year on the court at BC, having sat out as a transfer the season before. “Especially when I’m used to a certain way of doing stuff. I understand everybody’s young, but we played 30 games this year, you know? We should have, toward the end of the season, tried to come together—which we did, for the most part. We got a few wins.
“It is what it is.”
Humphrey’s five-year college journey, which ended last spring in Morgantown, West Va., was a constant tug-of-war—between frustration and reluctant acceptance, team goals and individuals goals, health, and injury. As Humphrey finished talking to the reporter, he took his bag and continued on his way to the bus.
No one knew it yet, but he was about to pack those bags and move again. The Chicago native had already left Oregon after his first two years in Eugene, and two more years at BC led to one last try at West Virginia.
Traveling 6,359 miles across the country and back, Humphrey’s collegiate journey escaped him more than it came to an end. His story is one of bad luck, tough breaks, and friction.
One and a half years after he got on the bus in Atlanta, Humphrey is trying to make his way onto an NBA roster.
“A guy that played at three big-time Division I schools should have a chance,” Humphrey said in a phone interview this week. He’s thoughtful and reflective, wishing he could’ve had better luck in college basketball, but there is no spite in his voice.
He has a workout scheduled with the New York Knicks’ Development League affiliate next month, but to understand how a player with a smooth jumper, a pro build at 6-foot-5, strong ball-handling, solid defensive skills, and quick hands is working his way onto the Eerie BayHawks roster in late September, you have to start in Eugene.
A Chicago connection with head coach Ernie Kent led Humphrey to join the Ducks in 2008, but right when he arrived Kent was already on the hot seat. Oregon finished second to last in the Pac-10 during the 2010 regular season and then lost to Washington State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, all of which led to Kent’s firing.
“I didn’t know what to do, honestly,” Humphrey told The Boston Globe in 2011. “It was just a lot of intangible things that I couldn’t necessarily control. At the same time, I still had to protect myself and make sure I was still in a good situation.”
Humphrey had an impressive start to his career, playing in all 31 games his freshman year showing off his range from beyond the arc and his smart instincts on defense. He missed 12 games from late November to mid-January during his sophomore season recovering from injury, but he played well in the 19 games in which he appeared. When he decided to transfer after Kent was let go, plenty of schools came calling.
Humphrey’s name came up when first-year BC head coach Steve Donahue was looking through a list of transfers. Donahue had briefly coached Humphrey during a few practice sessions for the USA Basketball U-18 team on which Humphrey played. Donahue thought Humphrey would be a good fit and Humphrey agreed, so he packed his bags for Boston.
“It’s been really tough bouncing all around the United States, but I just thought it was the best decision at the time,” Humphrey said in the middle of the 2011-12 season at BC. “If I was going to start fresh in a new place, BC was that place.”
He sat out the required transfer season in 2010-11, struggling at times since he didn’t feel like a full member of the team. Not only could he not play in games, but he also couldn’t travel or work his way into the starting squad in practice. As a bit of a saving grace, Humphrey got to act as the opposing team’s best player against the first unit. An elaborate and talented scorer, Humphrey relished the role, especially going against future first-round draft pick Reggie Jackson. One day Humphrey might be Duke’s Nolan Smith, the next day he could be UNC’s Harrison Barnes.
“I got Reggie ready for every single game,” Humphrey said. “We would beat the crap out of Reggie every day, because we’d really work on preparing for the next game. That’s all I really had to focus on.”
The unique role gave Humphrey an avenue in which he could thrive. An all-around scorer, Humphrey doesn’t have just one specialty for creating points. He can beat his man off the bounce and use angles to finish around the rim, and he also has a near perfect shooting-form, his body going up and coming down in the same fluid motion on his release. When his teammates cut to the rim, Humphrey usually finds a way to hit them in stride.