As Matheny leads his team through their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association, he took a few minutes to sit down with The Magazine of Elon to share five things about himself.
In his six seasons as head coach of the men’s basketball team, Matt Matheny has focused on much more than the scoreboard. He’s expanded the scope of recruitment, built an academically strong team and inspired enough loyalty that not a single one of his players has transferred to another school. And that’s on top of an impressive on-court record, including an at-home .750 winning percentage over the past three years. Last year Matheny helped the senior class, his first recruiting class at Elon, to a total of 68 wins—the most by a senior class during the school’s Division I era. As Matheny leads his team through their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association, he took a few minutes to sit down with The Magazine of Elon to share five things about himself.
He has a recurring dream. Matheny wants to take his team to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. It’s not a hope, it’s not a wish, it’s a “firm goal,” he says. For every year he’s coached at Elon, Matheny has saved a copy of USA Today’s NCAA March Madness Cinderella story. The stack of newspapers sits in his office as a reminder of that dream and his commitment to get there. In 2008, while he was associate head coach at Davidson College, his team made it to the tournament’s Elite Eight round. A poster hangs in his office commemorating that run with the words “Get Better, Have Fun, Play to Win.” It serves as a daily source of inspiration.
He was a college basketball walk-on. Matheny, who was born in Shelby, N.C., and raised 65 miles up the road in Statesville, was recruited to play for Davidson College. But not for basketball. He lettered four years as a quarterback and wide receiver for the football team. Basketball held his heart, so he walked on to the team and played point guard for two years. He graduated in 1992 with a degree in history and had plans to attend law school before he was invited to play football internationally.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Matheny does. Deggendorf, Germany, was home for two summers after college while he played football (he returned to Davidson in the fall for a coaching position). And while he says his German isn’t as good as he might like, he fell in love with Europe and with Germany in particular. A few years ago, the basketball program studied abroad and some of Matheny’s former teammates came to see the team. “One of the best things we do (at Elon) is give students the opportunity to study abroad,” he says. “To experience a new culture, to get out of your comfort zone, that’s a life-changing experience.”
He’s a whiz in the kitchen. Matheny and his family live one mile from campus and he makes it a point to host regular team meals at his house. There are back-to-school dinners, practice kick-off meals and Thanksgiving gatherings. And sometimes there are meals shared together just because. The players come to his house to play pool or hang out with his kids, Brock and Ava, while playing Xbox.
He’s not sure what life will be like in the CAA. And he’s OK with that. As Elon works through the first season competing in the CAA, Matheny is comfortable not having all the answers to how the team’s style of play might have to change. He’s confident enough in his players to know that they’ll do whatever it takes to rise to the occasion. “I love this team,” he says. “They’re hard-working, they listen and they’re motivated.” His players hail from all over the country. They’re diverse in the way they think, the way they react and their approach to adversity. “We have to try different things if we want to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before.”