Meet the Wildcats: Like artwork, Matthews looks to create unique identity

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Over the next several weeks, will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Today we kick off the 2015-16 series with the easy going Charles Matthews.

rtwork is as unique as the stripes on a zebra’s back.

There’s street art, water color, oil and acrylic. There are sculptures, abstract paintings and conglomerations that to some appear to be an oddly formed pile of scraps, but to others is a masterpiece that tells a story. Whatever it is, no two pieces of art are exactly same.

For incoming Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, that individuality, that ability to be oneself while playing off the style of others, is something that he admires, even if his own credentials as an artist are up for debate, according to his friends.

“I like art because people get to express themselves,” Matthews said in an exclusive interview with “If you look at a lot of artists, everybody has their own style, their own sense of culture, and all of their art represents them in some ways.”

Bio Blast

Position: Guard
Date of birth: Nov. 15, 1996
Parents: Charles and Nichole Matthews
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
High school: St. Rita
Nickname: C-Matt
Twitter: @_JustCharles_
Instagram: just.charles
Favorite TV show: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Martin
Favorite food: Steak (with loaded mashed potatoes and season broccoli as sides)
Favorite superhero: Batman
Favorite player: Kobe Bryant and Penny Hardaway
Sport he would play if not basketball: Boxing
Favorite movie: Great Gatsby
Favorite artist: Drake

With that said, he’s not into art history, and has no interest in studying art as a major in college. But in terms of street art, Matthews can’t help but smile just thinking about it.

Among his favorite artists is Hebru Brantley, a street artist from his hometown of Chicago, who uses everything from spray paint, to oil, to coffee to make his images come to life.

Similarly, Matthews attempts to employ many different tools and styles of play on the basketball court to get the job done. Described by head coach John Calipari as a “slasher,” Matthews says getting to the basket is his strength, “but that’s not what I’m limited to.”

A middle child, Matthews, credits his parents as having the greatest personal impact on his life and his older and younger brother as having the greatest impact on his life in basketball. A former skateboarder – “skinny jeans and everything,” he laughed – on the South Side of Chicago, Matthews got serious about basketball midway through his freshman year as the light came on for him about his basketball abilities.

Coached by Gary DeCesare at St. Rita, a former coach at DePaul, Matthews matured at a young age and realized what he does off the court can have an impact on what he wants to be and do on it. With that perspective in mind, the 6-foot-5 guard said he made sacrifices and focused on how he carried himself.

An easy going guy from Chicago, Matthews enjoys street art and individuality.

A laid-back guy from Chicago, Matthews enjoys street art and individuality.

“I have to give up a lot of things a normal, average teenager wouldn’t have to,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t live a teenage life, because I still did that, but I just couldn’t participate in a lot of things that a lot of my peers were doing.”

Instead, Matthews continued working on his game and became a top-15 prospect nationally before suffering nagging groin and ankle injuries that he attributed to a lack of stretching. The result of the injuries was a drop in his rankings by various recruiting services to around 50th in the country.

“I really don’t listen to outside sources,” said Matthews, a self-described laid back player who doesn’t try to ever get above the moment, but instead tries to go with the flow of the game. “I just keep my circle tight and I know how good I can be and that’s really all that matters with me.”

“Not only can Charles create shots for himself, he can create them for his teammates as well. He’s a 6-5 wing player with a lot of athleticism and is already an excellent defender. He’s a quality kid, a great student and he’s going to end up being a great player.” – Coach Cal
In what is regarded by most as a top-two class in the country, Matthews has flown under the radar of fellow incoming freshmen Isaiah Briscoe, Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray, but says he’s fine with the analysts talking about them.

“Might not be talking about me now, but later on down there I’m pretty sure they will,” he said.

He lists Kobe Bryant and Anfernee Hardaway as his favorite players, among others, but says he doesn’t like to mold his game after just one player, referring back to his love for individuality instead.

“I just like to take bits and pieces from each and every one to create this – how can I say this – Megatron or whatever Charles Matthews,” he said. “Just be myself.”

Ask him what his personal goals are, and Matthews will give you a team goal instead, which is to win a national championship. He admits that everybody has individual goals, but he doesn’t like to focus on them.

“I really feel the better you are as a team, the more individual awards you will receive anyway, so I just really try to focus on being a great team player and having lots of team success,” Matthews said.

The 2014-15 Wildcats would certainly agree with that mindset. Despite playing limited minutes, Willie Cauley-Stein was a consensus first team All-American and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Karl-Anthony Towns was a second team All-American and the SEC Freshman of the Year. And, oh yeah, the Cats had an NBA-record tying four players taken in the lottery and an NBA-record tying six drafted.

“It motivated me a lot just seeing those guys I’ve played against and their dreams are coming true,” Matthews said of the NBA Draft. “I’m just hoping one time my turn will be soon.

Matthews is excited about teaming up with his former AAU point guard Tyler Ulis once again.

Matthews is excited about teaming up with his former AAU point guard Tyler Ulis once again.

“I feel the sky is the limit so I just continue to look myself in the mirror and think, ‘Why can’t I be the best player?’ That’s what really does motivate me to go out and work hard.”

One guy who will help Matthews in his pursuit of reaching the top will be sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, an artist with the basketball who is able to penetrate and dish, find the open man or sink a floater. The two played AAU ball together with the Meanstreets team in Chicago, and stayed in touch throughout the 2014-15 season as Ulis and the Cats went on their historic run.

Coach Cal actually recruited Matthews initially before then seeing Ulis and recruiting him.

“It’s crazy how life works, isn’t it?” Matthews said.

Having his former point guard at Kentucky didn’t influence his decision to be here, but it was an added benefit, he said.

“We’re really cool,” Matthews said. “Tyler is a great guy and a great point guard. We’ve played with each other in the summer time with Meanstreets, and we created a bond over that. We just continue to get one another better and compete with each other.

“I really feel the better you are as a team, the more individual awards you will receive anyway, so I just really try to focus on being a great team player and having lots of team success.” – Charles Matthews
“I think it will help me tremendously and will also help the team out,” Matthews added when asked about playing together, “because us together, we can be pretty good and I feel we have a great team around us as well so we can do some scary things this year.”

And the idea of doing scary things is one shared by his head coach, who has already asked the returners, “Why not do something special again this year?” While watching the Cats reel off 38 straight wins, Matthews said he was cheering them on and was one of their biggest fans, wanting to see nothing but the best.

With that said, Matthews also believes there’s no pressure on the current group of Wildcats to match what the past team accomplished. Like artwork, the Chicago native believes every team, player and season is unique.

“Each and every team is different,” he said. “Each and every player is different. Each and every year is going to be different, so we’re just going to try to create our own identity and be the best we can be.

“I feel we have great players as well, so I’m like, Why not shock the world? Why not go ahead and win the national championship?”