WASHINGTON -- Garrison Mathews, believe it or not, was not always a shooter. He didn't consider himself one in high school or even early in college. But now, at 22 years old, he has a two-way contract with the Wizards and the primary reason is because of his outside shooting.
Mathews, in a sense, has shot his way to the NBA and is now poised to be the first player in the league ever to come from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
"It's a crazy experience," Mathews said. "I enjoy being able to put Lipscomb on the map a little bit. Obviously, they haven't had much exposure and they've given me a lot. It's nice helping and giving back in a way."
So, how did we get here? Well, it wasn't always going to be about basketball. Mathews comes from Franklin, Tenn., where high school football is king. Mathews' grandfather was on the 1962 national championship team at Ole Miss. Mathews at one point was on track to follow in those footsteps.
He played wide receiver and tight end in high school and still misses the game.
"There's nothing like it," Mathews said of football.
But as he grew to 6-foot-5 with speed and an improving jumpshot, colleges came calling. And, once they did, Mathews made the difficult decision to focus on basketball full-time.
Through his early years in college, Mathews realized playing in the NBA was a possiblity. So, he grinded through summers, sharpening his jumper.
Slowly, but surely, they started falling more consistently.
"I don't know, it just kind of happened that way," Mathews said of becoming known for his shooting.
Mathews shot 34.9 percent from the perimeter his freshman year at Lipscomb. By his senior year, he was making 40.3 percent on eight attempts per game.
And it wasn't just the volume or the percentage that improved, it was the variety of shots he felt confident to even try. If anything has stood out about Mathews so far during his brief tenure with the Wizards, it is his ability to make shots without his feet being set.
Mathews made a shot in a preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 7 in which his feet were facing the sideline when he caught the ball off a screen. He turned quickly before rising and knocked it down.
Mathews can straighten out his shooting form mid-air and it's something not many players can do. He has worked on it for years.
"There's a lot of times in my workouts where I'm coming off screens or practicing [dribble hand-offs] where I'm coming off a screen and just jumping in the air. That's part of my regiment when I work out," he said.
Mathews has made shots like that consistently in practice, but doing so in a game is a different story. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has seen plenty of players come along who can't translate what they do in practices to games.
So, he's not ready to crown Mathews as the next J.J. Redick.
"The percentages will be able to tell us eventually whether those are shots he can make or if we have to have better footwork," Brooks said.
"There's only a few guys that can really square up basically in mid-air and be able to have it. Brad [Beal] has the ability to do that and it took him some time. I don't know if he's one of them, Garrison."
The list of players who make those shots often certainly isn't long. Redick is one, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors can certainly be included. Kyle Korver of the Bucks also comes to mind.
Korver, in fact, spent some time with Mathews before the Wizards' game against Milwaukee on Oct. 13. Mathews says he has long been compared to Korver, so he listened intently to what Korver had to say.
"I appreciated that from him. It meant a lot," Mathews said.
"[He told me that] when he practices, when he does individual stuff, he goes as hard as he can. And then he works on his body almost as much as he does on the court."
Mathews is confident, but also realistic. He said he would like to follow Korver's path, but knows he has a long way to go to carve out a career like Korver has.
"I feel like later in my career I can be a little bit like him. Maybe not as great as him because he's a great shooter," Mathews said. "But it's cool being able to guard somebody that a lot of people compare you to when you were growing up."
Mathews has learned through his development as a shooter that hard work can lead to success and sometimes even in ways that are unexpected. Maybe someday he will be in Korver's shoes, offering advice to a young player looking up to him.
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