MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Bob Huggins reminded Emmitt Matthews Jr. of that during his exit interview after the 2020-21 season. More than a year later, Matthews said that sentence is something he takes literally.
He played the first three seasons of his collegiate career at WVU before a one-year stint at Washington. He entered the transfer portal for the second time and ended up back at the place it all started.
“At the end of the day, this is the best decision for me. I knew where I wanted to be. This was home for me for three years and I wish I would have never left the first time,” Matthews said. “I love everything about being here. The fan base. The way we play. How loud the Coliseum gets when you have a sold-out game. Road trips when you go places and fans of the other school hate you because you are the hardest playing team in the nation. Those things have always stuck with me since the first year I was here.”
Matthews joked that he’s just been on a “one-year vacation.”
He said there wasn’t anything that happened at Washington that made him want to leave the program. He can’t point to a particular situation or issue.
Being from Tacoma, he was home. That fact was supposed to make his senior night as a Husky even more memorable. It was in that moment that the memories from his other home came flooding back and it all clicked.
“Nothing compares to being here. Senior night here, you walk out and got Huggs at the end of the carpet. The fans show up and show you a lot of love because of the time you spent here, they treat it like as the highest thing in the world. So when I walked out on senior night I just blinked my eyes and was like ‘man, what if I was in the Coliseum right now?’”
That exact opportunity is the thing Matthews is looking forward to most about the upcoming season. A hug from Huggs and a picture with his family all in gold and blue is his ideal sendoff.
After Matthews realized Morgantown was the place he wanted to end his collegiate career, he made one call to Huggins and the rest is history.
The relationship between the two started when Matthews was a senior in high school and Huggins flew out to Seattle to watch him play. That bond created on that day never wavered. It remained strong during Matthews’ one year at Washington and is a big reason he came back to Morgantown.
“I feel like a lot of people paint the narrative of when you transfer from a school, it’s got to be a bad thing. More than half the time, I don’t really think it’s that. I think a lot of guys do get homesick. COVID was a hard year for a lot of people, not just myself. Even dealing with that stuff, me and Huggs relationship never changed. We always stayed talking,” Matthews said.
“You know, I’m from way out west and don’t get to see my family that much. Him knowing that, he’s really stepped up for me and helped me in a lot of ways that my parents would with life advice and those things. It’s easy to FaceTime or call my parents, but when you have a coach that can also help you, it’s really good for me. Our relationship is strong. It’s really strong.”
Matthews first came to Morgantown as a teenager in 2018. He returns in 2022 as an adult who learned life lessons along the way.
“You grow into an adult and handle things a lot differently. Just learning everything for the first time and using it last year at my other school. Then taking everything I learned from another coach, coming back here and apply it all together. The game has really slowed down,” he said. “Freshman year you feel like everything is going so fast. My first game out there I felt like I had bricks in my shoes. Basketball has changed so much my freshman year to now.”
Now, Huggins points to the haircut being a big difference in Matthews from when he last coached him, but his maturity is what sticks out the most.
“I kind of liked it when it was big he would run. It reminded me of Warren Baker,” Huggins said. “He’s matured more. Who wouldn’t? He’s been exposed to a different culture. They were a zone team, they aren’t physical like we are. He spent more time here than anywhere else so I think his culture is our culture which helps us a bunch.”
Looking back, Matthews may have wished he never left Morgantown, but now, he has the opportunity for a storybook ending to his collegiate career.
Not only will he get his senior night vision at the Coliseum, but he will get another lasting memory at the venue – being able to graduate alongside his younger sister Ahmani who he calls his best friend.