LAS VEGAS – Most NBA hopefuls in Las Vegas for the summer league would enjoy their free time, seeing what the Entertainment Capital has to offer.
Staying on the famed Las Vegas Strip has plenty of features.
But for Gonzaga product Jordan Mathews, who is on the Los Angeles Clippers’ summer roster, his spare time was spent in a hotel gym, preparing his body for the rigors of professional basketball. He understands the importance of keeping his temple healthy for every rebound, jump shot, hard foul – every facet that comes from playing in the NBA – and he’s made sure to include full body resistance training to help with his mobility whenever he can.
“I think lifting is important,” Mathews said via phone interview Saturday after his gym session. “The on-the-court stuff is mental, but I like to have my body in the best shape possible. If I do that, then when we’re both (getting) tired, I know I won’t be as tired as my opponent, and I can go to the next level.”
Mathews certainly has a good idea of what it takes to compete there. After not being selected in the 2017 draft, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard joined the New Orleans Pelicans last summer, and then signed with the Atlanta Hawks in September before getting released less than a month later, becoming one of the team’s final casualties as the preseason came to an end.
Mathews ended up with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA G League and averaged 8.8 points in 48 games in his rookie season, shooting 38.4 percent from the field.
This year, he’s looking to stay with the big boys.
“My first experience I learned how to be professional,” Mathews said. “I learned how to conduct myself. There really is no set formula as to what NBA teams are looking for. You could be a scorer, but they may not be looking for that particular skill set. It doesn’t matter. I did my thing in the minicamp, and I know what I can do. I can score, I know I can score on anyone at any time.
“So, it’s like, what else do you need to see from me? There’s literally nothing I could have done more in minicamp, so that gives me solace.”
As it should, after making his mark with the Gonzaga team that lost in the 2017 NCAA Tournament title game. As a senior, Mathews averaged 10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, and hit a team-high 85 3-pointers.
Mathews said he’s still reaping benefits from his time playing AAU ball, as far back as when he was 9 years old on the competitive Southern California circuit, maturing as a top recruit out of high school and playing at Cal before transferring to Gonzaga.
“For me to leave my comfort zone in California after three years, to go to Spokane and adjusting to a new team, it made me realize I can go anywhere and play with anyone as long as I bring my game,” he said. “Stick to the fundamentals. When guys get lost in the crowd and start playing for other reasons, that’s where you’re doing too much. If you can stick to your basics, you’ll be fine in any scenario.”
Just as Bogdan Bliznyuk found out one day before he was slated to make his debut alongside Mathews with the Clippers.
The former Eastern Washington star signed a multiyear deal with Bnei Herzliya, which plays in Israel’s top professional division.
“There’s a lot for me to learn. You always want to better yourself, you always want to learn from these guys who have been around and these coaches who have been in the league,” said Bliznyuk, after the Clippers’ summer league opener Friday against the Golden State Warriors. “It’s been a great experience so far. There’s a lot to learn and there’s a lot to soak up and that’s what I’ve been doing, just being ready whenever my name is called.”
For Bliznyuk, that call came from overseas, as he’ll join a club that last season featured former NCAA standouts Jeff Adrien (UConn) and Taurean Green (Florida).
The 6-foot-6 guard, who was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year last season after setting the league’s all-time scoring mark (2,169 points), went undrafted last month but signed a summer league contract with the Clippers.
W.G. Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez