Raleigh, North Carolina — The first thing you notice about Xavier Mathews is his smile. Mostly because it’s a permanent fixture on his face and virtually impossible to miss.
A moment later, you discover his game, mostly because it’s highly explosive and at times dominant, particularly in the open court and transition.
Then, you recognize that the smile never left his face. Not when he was breaking a defender down off the dribble. Not when leading the fast break at a frantic pace. And not even when he flies into the protective padding under the basket at top speed en route to an eventual And-1 conversion.
There’s an obvious joy Mathews plays with that makes the game look, at times, effortless and has helped to propel Team CP3 (NC) to a 3-0 start at USBA Nationals in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Only dressing five and without subs for their first three games, Mathews led CP3 to a triple-overtime sudden death (how’s that for serious-sounding) victory on Day 1 against Emerge Elite. After rolling through Day 2, Mathews again was a difference-maker on Thursday, lighting up the first half before hitting key buckets down the stretch in a tight 69-66 (nice) victory over Team Hicks (NC).
“I’m built for this man. My coach prepared us for this,” a confident Matthews said after clinching the dramatic victory. Even in the tensest moments of the contest, Matthews remained cool, determined to push his team to a victory.
A right-handed ball-handler in the Class of 2023, Mathews has dynamic athleticism and strength, routinely being the pound-for-pound strongest player on the court. That combination allows for a really fun transition game, where he clearly feels most comfortable and can take over games for stretches.
He’s a good shooter from all over, particularly flashing a nice pull-up game, as well as the occasional catch-and-shoot three when called upon.
Perhaps most impressive of the skills he’s shown this week has been his leadership. Team CP3 has hardly missed a beat despite only having five players on site for their first three games, and much of that can be attributed both to Mathews’ play and his mindset. We asked him about what goes into his game mentally knowing that he only has four teammates next to him, and his response was a simple one: “Be a Dog.”
And for the most part, his play has proven that. Teams have focused in on him, sending traps and switching to a press to try and slow him down to varying degrees of success, but so far no one has consistently shut him down, particularly in crunch time, where he’s shown plenty of timeliness
Mathews and CP3 will hope to continue their late-game heroics on Friday morning, when they face fellow first place Fly High Athletics for a chance to play Philly Triple Threat later in the day. If all goes according to plan, CP3 will get the chance to put up three more wins on Friday before turning their attention to their final goal on Saturday.
That goal is fairly simple for Matthews’ and company when it comes to their plans for the rest of Nationals: win the entire thing.
“We want to win USBA. We lost last year in double overtime to Blue Chips, so I just want to win it this year.”
If you’re unaware, Blue Chips is the AAU team that houses Bronny James.
After a tough championship duel with them last year, Matthews is ready to have his hunger satisfied, and he hopes this is the setting that provides him with that nourishment.
Matthews and Team CP3 appear primed to make a championship run here at Nationals, but only time will tell if they’ll be the ones hoisting the trophy after it’s all said and done. If you believe in Matthews’ word, it’s merely an inevitability.