Former Central star Dre Mathieu out to 'prove it' at Minnesota

Ex- Central star worked way to Div. I

Former Central High School player Dre Mathieu speaks to the media after participating in the Rocky Top League on Monday July 1, 2013. Mathieu will be a scholarship player at Minnesota next season.

Former Central High School player Dre Mathieu speaks to the media after participating in the Rocky Top League on Monday July 1, 2013. Mathieu will be a scholarship player at Minnesota next season.

Three years ago this month, Dre Mathieu received a call he thought would change his life.

Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman was on the line. He offered an elusive Division I offer Mathieu felt was overdue.

“I thought that was the final deal,” Mathieu said Monday night, stepping back in time. “I was ready to go. A lot has happened since. It’s crazy.”

Among the happenings: Mathieu never attended Chattanooga, played one season as a walk-on at Morehead State, transferred to Central Arizona College for a year, and then, finally, saw a long-sought dream come true.

“It worked out for the best after all,” he said, returning to the present.

Hailing from the Lonsdale section of Knoxville, Mathieu — overlooked and underestimated his whole career — will be a scholarship player at Minnesota next season. The pint-sized but hiccup-quick point guard will, at long last, play big-time college basketball.

“I had to prove it at Morehead. I had to prove it at Central Arizona. Now it’s time to prove it at Minnesota,” Mathieu said.

In his senior year at Central High School, Mathieu earned 2011 PrepXtra Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, averaging 20.7 points, 8.1 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 steals per game. At the time, it wasn’t enough to yield a DI career. He says he’s still unsure why the UTC offer fell through. Other colleges, meanwhile, weighed his height, just 5 feet, 9 inches, over his skill.

So Mathieu walked-on at Morehead. He played in 29 of 33 games, but wasn’t offered a scholarship after his freshman year.

He then transferred to Central Arizona. One week before the 2012-13 season began, Mathieu remembers text messaging his mother and four brothers. It read, “Don’t worry about anything. We’re going to go get it.”

Mathieu got it at Central Arizona. He averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, opening a floodgate of DI scholarship offers. In a flash, the attention he felt he long deserved poured forth.

“Actually, I thought it was more attention than I deserved,” he said. “I had to start turning my phone off at night. It was overwhelming.”

The days of considering a scholarship from Chattanooga were over. Minnesota, Ole Miss, UCLA, Memphis, Washington State and Pepperdine were on the pursuit.

“Dre was a joy, an absolute blessing,” Central Arizona coach JD Pollock said Monday. “He led the team from day one and really ran with it. He had an exceptional year for us, obviously.”

Nearly three years after the call from Shulman, another phone call made this college choice an easy one. The Golden Gophers are led by newly hired coach Richard Pitino, son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.

Soon after leading the Cardinals to last year’s national title, the elder Pitino called Mathieu to say his son’s system is a perfect fit.

“I was like oh my goodness, it’s Rick Pitino,” Mathieu said.

He committed to Minnesota soon after.

“And he earned every bit of that scholarship,” Pollock said.

Doubters aside, Mathieu will now spend two seasons in the grueling, grinding Big Ten Conference.

“Dre has a lot of game,” said Tennessee guard Jordan McRae, an All-SEC performer last year who is teamed with Mathieu in this summer’s Rocky Top League. “He’s a pass-first point guard who’s quicker than anyone else out there. Plus, he can jump out of the gym.”

Scholarship in tow, Mathieu will soon depart for Minneapolis. He has two years of eligibility to prove himself. History shows that shouldn’t be a problem.

“There is always going to be a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I was passed over so much. It’s just it’s time.”

Campus Lights 100, Choice Spine 90: Aided by 18 from Mathieu, McRae led Campus Lights with 31. Former Vol Rob Murphy scored 14 for Choice Spine which was led by Boo Jackson’s 23. Campus Lights will meet News Sentinel in the Rocky Top League championship game at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Rice Buick GMC 107, DeRoyal Industries 98: UT’s Josh Richardson (50) and Darius Thompson (27) combined for 77 in the win, outdueling DeRoyal’s UT duo of D’Montre Edwards (33) and A.J. Davis (22). Vols sophomore Armani Moore left the game with a sprained ankle, but said afterward he was OK and left under his own power. DeRoyal will face Choice Spine in Tuesday’s 3rd-place game at 6 p.m.

News Sentinel 113, Next Level 105: Galen Campbell and Wayne Chism scored 28 apiece in the win, while incoming freshman Robert Hubbs finished with 28 for Next Level.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 9

PHAT_VOL writes:

Good Luck to you Young Man!

CrankE writes:

And this is UT news . . . . how?

Maybe go west and do some digging, get some names on the Vandy scandy? There's a lot more to this than what's been released (late on a Friday afternoon).

ball1523 writes:

the kid grew up in knoxville and wanted to play for the vols as a kid. ut passed on him and he s a baller. of course this is ut news.

underthehill writes:

in response to ball1523:

the kid grew up in knoxville and wanted to play for the vols as a kid. ut passed on him and he s a baller. of course this is ut news.

If he is as good now as reported..UT should have gone after him big time..MTSU had a strong team for the last 2 years due to recruiting a Jr College point guard..

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Shulman saw the writing on the wall. Why should he help a kid he knew he couldn't stay and watch grow?
Ronrico is possibly a better fit at UTC but Mathieu sounds like a tough kid. I think Minnesota got a good one. UT doesn't need him probably. Not now. 2 years ago maybe. Too late anyhow.
I almost didn't read this but realized it was Rocky top info. Not a bad read really.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to underthehill:

If he is as good now as reported..UT should have gone after him big time..MTSU had a strong team for the last 2 years due to recruiting a Jr College point guard..

It seems Minnesota has the legendary Rick Pitino recruiting for them.

MTSU I hate to say I can't remember the coaches name offhand. But they've had some good players.

Weren't the gophers(Minnesota) in the tourney last year? I can't recall. I read this quickly and didn't they say the Minnestoa Golden Golphers? Never mind I'll just read it again.lol

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to underthehill:

If he is as good now as reported..UT should have gone after him big time..MTSU had a strong team for the last 2 years due to recruiting a Jr College point guard..

Let me try this again. I thought you were confusing Minnesota with MTSU. I should have known better. But MTSU did have strong guards the way I remember it...not fondly.

1vavolfan writes:

in response to CrankE:

And this is UT news . . . . how?

Maybe go west and do some digging, get some names on the Vandy scandy? There's a lot more to this than what's been released (late on a Friday afternoon).

He's from Knoxville and playing in PRTL and not exactly a lot to report in July. If you aren't interested don't read it, I found it interesting and looking forward to watching the young man compete tonight.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

It seems Minnesota has the legendary Rick Pitino recruiting for them.

MTSU I hate to say I can't remember the coaches name offhand. But they've had some good players.

Weren't the gophers(Minnesota) in the tourney last year? I can't recall. I read this quickly and didn't they say the Minnestoa Golden Golphers? Never mind I'll just read it again.lol

I hope the kid does well. If he becomes a star at UM, of course everybody will be mad at Martin for not going after him. It isn't kind, perhaps, but it is really hard to overlook 5'9" as a potentially unsurmontable problem on defense. A player like that would usually do better in a more wide-open style at both ends than Martin is likely to run, and he has often said he favors big guards, the Landry lapse notwithstanding.

Besides, if Mathieu was that good, why didn't Rick try to recruit him for himself? After all, they lost Siva off the championship team. But again, a kid from a background like that who makes something of himself gets a tip of the cap from me, wherever and whenever he does it.

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