Dec. 19, 2000
by Ken Kleppel
A glare of confidence glistens from the eyes of guard Matt Carroll.
Only a sophomore in the classroom, but already a veteran on the hard court, he has that uncanny ability to combine poise with passion, control with aggressiveness.
And his desire is evident.
In Notre Dame's 107-68 victory over Loyola, a game in which he scored 17 points and notched six assists in just 26 minutes of play, Carroll characteristically hustled and crashed into the Loyola bench in pursuit of a loose ball late in the second half with a 40-point lead.
The near capacity crowd at the Joyce Center took notice with a round of applause, but Carroll may have left the biggest impression on head coach Mike Brey who stood just a few yards away on the Irish bench.
"That's a great example, but that's how he plays," says Brey, who is in his first-season at Notre Dame.
"He really never has a practice where he's not going 100 miles per hour. Sometimes guys aren't full speed, or they have a bad day, but he loves to compete and practice. He is very consistent. What you see is what you get on a daily basis. No matter if we're practicing for two hours or 45 minutes, he's competing like it's an end-of-game situation and going after it. That's what makes him a heck of a talent."
Carroll has never expected less. At least not with all the support he has received from his family.
But of course, the Carroll's are not your typical family.
Matt's uncle, Tom, pitched for the 1975 World Champion Cincinnati Reds, while his uncles, Don and Mike, played basketball at St. Francis and American Universities, respectively.
His father, John, played football at Penn State and his grandfather is the winningest coach in the history of Pennsylvania basketball at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.
"I think the thing that got me interested in basketball was I used to go to my grandfather's games while I was growing up," says Carroll.
"When the game would end, my buddies, my brother and I would stay after and have the entire court to ourselves until my parents were ready to leave. We would play there all night. When I got to high school, basketball just started taking over everything."
Yet, this amazing family tree provides its greatest influence away from the field of play, according to Carroll.
"My family is the number-one thing in my life. I've had support from them through whatever I did, no matter what I wanted to do. If I wanted to play an instrument, or be in a band, my family would support that. They knew how much I enjoyed playing basketball and supported me durin gall these years."
Carroll ventured across state to Philadelphia after 14 years in the Steel City, and became the only athlete in the history of Pennsylvania high school basketball to win Associated Press player-of-the-year honors twice, doing so at Hatboro-Horsham High School.
He earned a spot on the United States Junior National Team during the summer of 1998, and again in 1999, helping the squad earn gold in his first summer of play and silver in the next. Learning from the international competition and playing alongside the elite of college basketball, including current NBA players Mike Miller, Keyon Dooling and Casey Jacobson, the USA Basketball experience was special for Carroll.
"The competition we had in practice was unbelievable and it was quite a learning experience in itself. We were playing against Japan, Egypt, China and such teams you just don't picture as having basketball players. It opened my eyes to how popular basketball is throughout the entire world."
Carroll's eyes have been open to a whole lot more thus far at Notre Dame as he prepares to finish his third semester at the University.
"I think the toughest obstacle I have had to overcome here was just balancing my time and learning time management. It was tough coming in here with school because the workload is very challenging and difficult to manage with travel. Basketball is demanding in the preseason, in the off-season and during the year. In basketball there is really no time off."
Balancing his marketing major with the rigors of the college basketball scene, Carroll laced his adidas sneakers for the first formal time in mid-October at Midnight Madness and finally untied them after nearly running the table at Madison Square Garden in the National Invitation Tournament final against Wake Forest.
"Our goal last year was to go to the NCAA Tournament, but we made it to the NIT and I think it didn't work out too badly for us. We played five extra games, we received a lot of exposure on national television and I think it gave us a lot of confidence. We beat some good teams and gave us some much needed experience."
But experience was just one of the many key take-a-ways from that freshman campaign for Carroll.
"The Ohio State game was the first game I ever played. To have a win like that at their place, at the buzzer, was so thrilling for me personally. I think both UConn games were amazing too. When you beat a team that is ranked pretty high, it's really exciting."
The squad's third leading scorer with an average of just under 10 points per game, Carroll connected on 64 three-point field goals, good for third most in single-season school history. His 11 second-half points against Michigan helped propel the Irish to a first-round victory in the postseason NIT. Working off the bench in the pre-season NIT, Carroll recorded his first career start against Vanderbilt in November and would start all but one of the remaining 31 games of the season. As another sign of his escalating improvement throughout the course of the campaign, Carroll averaged 17 minutes the first six games of the year, but would average 30 minutes per game the rest of the way.
"The number-one thing I take from last year to this year is just confidence and maturity. Your freshman year is always tough because you really don't know what to expect. But this year I do know what to expect. I worked hard in the off-season, put on some weight, got a little stronger and conditioned well this summer with our strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski and the guys who stayed here all summer. I think that helped out a lot."
Junior forward Troy Murphy offers another perspective. Rooming with Carroll over the summer, the two spent those muggy nights away from the dorm on the hard court, taking part in nightly midnight shootarounds.
"He's a hard worker and he's focused on becoming an all-around better basketball player. He's a guy who gives us everything he has. He makes big shots. He can handle the ball. He's a great passer. He can rebound. He is just a very valuable asset to the team."
"You're seeing a guy who really made a commitment to getting himself in better shape and stronger over the summer. He's playing with a lot more confidence because of that. The first month there was nobody better than Matt Carroll in practice.
"He can score when he has to score. He gets the ball to people and makes some big defensive plays. He's been our best perimeter defender. We've started him on the best perimeter guys and he's answered that call. He gives us some kind of toughness."
"You just get better as a player," Carroll says.
"My skills are better with a year of college. I have improved my defense the most over the course of this year."
Averaging 12.4 points by shooting 53 percent from the field and draining 10 three-point shots in 18 attempts, Carroll has lived up to his billing as a sharpshooter in the backcourt. But averaging nearly six assists and 6.5 rebounds per game, including nine against Vanderbilt, Carroll has become that all-around threat in 2000-01.
But Carroll has a modest explanation.
"Just seeing the crowd, all the fan support and the students coming out, playing in front of a packed house is a great feeling. I don't think there is a better shooting arena for me in the country than Notre Dame."
"When you talk to the team he's one of those guys that has great eyes and acknowledges things you say," says Brey.
"He's really a believer. He is a pleasure to coach because he is a very willing student. He's just really solid. You're looking at a guy early in his sophomore year and I think the sky is absolutely the limit for him because he just has a great feel for the game. I think he's getting more confident all the time."