Gonzaga junior guard Matt Bouldin has turned words into action.
He was quietly going along, putting together another solid season as one of the team’s best shooters, scorers, rebounders, passers and defenders. The last two games, Bouldin has been dominant, pouring in 26 points on Tennessee and overloading the stat sheet against Portland.
Not coincidentally, the last two games came after head coach Mark Few huddled with players individually for midseason progress reports at a Knoxville hotel, hours before the Zags snapped a three-game losing streak with an overtime win against the Volunteers.
“I talked to him and Steven (Gray) about being more accountable,” Few said. “Prior to this, I just felt like they both just played sometimes. ‘Hey, my shot’s going in or whatever, I just play.’ I wanted them really being accountable for what the end result is.
“They have to have an impact on every possession, whether it’s tipping a ball, rebounding it, driving it in. That’s what we expect from them. And yet they have to do it in their time and their moment because they’re not ball-pounding, ankle-breaking guards. What both of them are is really complete players.”
Turns out Bouldin probably needed a good talkin’ to. And what made this chat different from past one-on-ones with Few was that this team was trying to excavate itself from a three-week funk.
“When a team is struggling, you kind of see changes you need to make,” said the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Bouldin. “I guess that’s really what kind of opened my eyes. He has all the faith in me and his expectations of me are really high. Just him kind of re-emphasizing those things was really helpful.”
GU’s coaching staff has long been after Bouldin to be more assertive and aggressive. The rub, in part, is that Bouldin has a laid-back personality and he rarely draws attention to himself, even when he had a three-game stretch with 21, 26 and 21 points against Tennessee, Utah and Georgia, respectively, last season.
“It’s definitely hard for me, but I’ve talked about this with (Few) a lot. There’s a bunch of guys, like Steven, for example, he’s definitely not a rah-rah guy and I don’t consider myself a rah-rah guy,” Bouldin said. “Some people, it’s in their personalities, it’s in them. I still consider myself a leader and I try to consider myself a good teammate.”
There are numerous parallels to Bouldin’s career at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, a Denver suburb.
“Matt has always been unselfish and he always shared the ball,” ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz said. “When he was a sophomore some of the opposing coaches said they’d play Matt to pass the ball. I definitely thought Matt wasn’t being assertive at Gonzaga, but he’s starting to show that more.”
Bouldin has an interesting background on and off the court. At one time, he believed singing was in his future. He even put together a CD when he was in grade school, but those ambitions ended when his voice changed in middle school. He’s always been a voracious reader. He had a wide array of friends and Ortiz remembers Bouldin befriending a student who “wasn’t a mainstream kid but more of a technology kid. You would never guess Matt would be friends with this kid, but he doesn’t come across as an arrogant, big jock type of guy.”
Baseball was another potential option. Bouldin threw effortlessly in the upper 80s, but baseball always took a backseat to basketball. The sport is in Bouldin’s blood. His father, Ron, was a stout, 6-foot-5 center at Colorado State who had a couple of NBA tryouts.
Ortiz has separate pictures in his office of Ron from his playing days and Matt during a high school game. They’re both in similar stances, both with unruly hair, both in uniform No. 15.
“They basically look the same,” Ortiz said.
Bouldin said his dad taught him the fundamentals and many of the moves he still uses, but one thing didn’t get passed along.
“He had a 42-inch vertical,” Bouldin said. “He could fly. That’s something I don’t have.”
ThunderRidge was in the state title game three straight years, winning once. In Bouldin’s senior year, the talent level dropped off, but Bouldin averaged 25 ppg and the team returned to the playoffs.
“His role changed considerably from a do-it-all guy to a scorer, but he still did it all,” Ortiz said.
As a two-time Colorado player of the year Bouldin had numerous college options, but he picked Gonzaga over Cal and Notre Dame. At Gonzaga, Bouldin moved into the starting lineup as a freshman and averaged 8.9 points. He led Gonzaga at 12.6 points per game last season. His rebounding, steals and field-goal and 3-point percentages are currently at career-high levels.
“He’s doing great things for our team,” senior forward Josh Heytvelt said. “He’s playing ‘in the zone’ right now.”
Not to mention he’s being more assertive and accountable.
“I guess being more assertive is the perfect way to put it,” Bouldin said. “This is almost how it went in high school and I want to keep developing and becoming a better player. A lot of the reasons why I’m doing so well right now are the situations I’m getting put in. We move the ball great and we have so much versatility on this team. It plays to my strengths.”
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