Straight from print: Andrija Matic, AU’s next great big man
The sophomore has emerged as one of AU’s key basketball players
This article originally appeared in The Eagle’s December 9 special edition.
When basketball player and current sophomore Andrija Matic established himself as a key rotation player last season, it gave the Eagles something they hadn’t had in years: a good, solid “big man.”
Since Tony Wroblicky graduated in 2014, the AU men’s basketball team has struggled to find consistent frontcourt play. Without a true big man, it can be difficult to defend and rebound.
The Eagles thought they had the problem solved early last season when GW transfer Paris Maragkos opened his Eagles tenure with an impressive 16 points on 6-10 shooting against Rhode Island University in November 2015. But Maragkos struggled defensively, was frequently in foul trouble and his low-post scoring was wildly inconsistent.
With Maragkos’ inability to stay on the court, it opened up an opportunity for Matic to play.
As a newcomer from Belgrade, Serbia, Matic said he struggled at the beginning of the year, lacking confidence and still figuring out the “Princeton” offense, a complicated offensive system which involves constant motion and cutting off the ball, utilized by AU under head coach Mike Brennan.
“It’s so complex, there are so many options to chose from,” Matic said. “You can’t speak the language if you don’t know the words. Because I didn’t know the offense, coach [Brennan] didn’t want me to shoot, didn’t want me to drive but learn it first.”
Another area Matic struggled with was staying in shape, and being able to keep up with the demands of playing college basketball.
“Last year I had huge problems with conditioning,” Matic said. “My teammates were telling me all the time, ‘you look like you were passing out, get in shape, get in shape.’ I worked a lot this summer on that.”
As last season progressed, Brennan began to trust Matic more. His first signs of promise came in a 61-50 loss against Boston University, when he posted 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes.
His first breakout game came against Holy Cross University. Matic provided a much needed boost with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists to help the Eagles secure a 58-45 win over Holy Cross. Matic’s biggest contribution, however, was scoring eight points in just 13 minutes to help push the Eagles past Boston in the first round of the Patriot League tournament last season.
Matic came onto the team as an unknown, but by the end, was named head coach Mike Brennan’s “favorite guy”.
“He was thrown into the fire last year,” Brennan said. “He was able to do everything we asked, score in the low post. He’s going to be a big part of what we do going forward.”
In terms of personal goals, Matic emphasized the importance of ball security. Matic turned the ball over more than three of every ten possessions, a number that will need to go down if he wants to take the next step.
Brennan’s big plan for Matic is a move from the center (five) to the power forward (four) position, a project that will challenge Matic even more. The goal of the move is to have AU play two true big men at the same time, something the Eagles haven’t been able to do the past two seasons.
“It’s a big adjustment, especially for the Princeton [offense],” Matic said. “You have to be able to guard faster guys. I feel like I improved a lot this summer at moving, which was the key part of me playing at the four.”
While the move may take some getting used to, Brennan does see long term potential in his plan.
“It won’t be so much pressure on him to touch the ball constantly and have to make decisions, and it’ll help us be bigger,” Brennan said on Matic’s position change. “It’s different for him so he’s gonna go through some growing pains."