Only 1% of NCAA athletes eligible for the NBA draft ever get to play professionally. We all know the stories of those who made it, but what about those who just missed their chance? The DMV’s own Chris Matthews is a prime example of a kid from the inner-city whose basketball skills were enough to make him a top collegiate athlete, but never quite got him to the NBA. Despite this, his drive to chase his dreams brought him on a journey that took him through the NBA D-League and six years overseas, giving him countless opportunities to travel the world doing what he loves, while having a major impact on youth and aspiring athletes internationally. Today, Matthews, who you should follow on Instagram @lethalshooter, is one of the best shooters in the nation and a renowned shooting coach for professional athletes working to build his brand and broaden his impact on youth.
Check out what some of his friends and colleagues—all big basketball names you should be familiar with—had to say about Chris:
•Craig Hodges, NBA Champ with Bulls and Three-Point Shootout Champion: “When I first saw Chris shoot I knew he had put in the necessary practice to make his jumpshot pure and consistent.”
•Quinn Cook, Cleveland Cavaliers rookie: “Chris is one of the best shooters in the world, hands down. I’ve seen how much time he puts into his craft. Seeing his hard work showed me that work is what it takes to get to another level.”
•Moochie Norris, DC and Houston Rocket legend, thanks to his high socks and gritty point guard play: “Chris is one of the most efficient shooters I’ve ever come across. Having played at every level of the game I can guarantee you that he would give any shooter in the game—today or the past—a true challenge. His passion for his craft is what separates him from the crowd. I’m a fan of his amazing ability to stroke the ball from anywhere on the floor—or really, the gym!”
•David Vanterpool, assistant coach for the Trail Blazers: “Chris has one of the purest-looking shots I’ve ever seen! His shots always look effortless, and his mechanics insure that he gives every shot the best chance to go in.”
For more, read our q&a with Chris below to learn how constantly chasing your dreams can bring you international success, even if the path there you take is less than traditional.
SLAM: Tell us your path through college and into the D-League and playing overseas?
CM: My first two years out of high school I played at Washington State University for Tony Bennett, who is now the head coach at University of Virginia. Then I transferred to St. Bonaventure University in New York to be closer to home, where I broke almost every shooting record, including setting a program single-season record with over 100 3-pointers in a season. My senior year I was one of 18 players in the nation with 100 or more 3-pointers, ranking me 1st in the A-10 and 7th in the nation in 3-pointers per game. After college, I felt discouraged that I wasn’t drafted for the NBA. I had to do some soul searching and determine what my life purpose was.
As I perfected my craft and began to realize the influence I had over young aspiring athletes, that feeling of being lost subsided. I grew to appreciate my career because it gave my life a meaning, led to traveling the world and learning different cultures. I learned that the NBA is not the final destination for all great players. I’ve mastered my craft and I use my unique gift to help other people at all levels reach their full potential. I hope to be an influential community leader that the youth can look up to.
SLAM: What’s your goal now?
CM: Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life; it’s about what you inspire others to do. Basketball opened so many doors for me that many people thought I would never walk through due to where I grew up, and I want to make sure others have similar opportunities. My goal is to help inspire the next generation of leaders to achieve their full potential in life by using basketball as a vehicle for social change. I am devoted to empowering and motivating the next generation. I want the youth to know success is possible if they make a commitment to work hard to accomplish their goals.
Starting this summer, I’m leading multiple camps in low-income areas in Washington, DC focused on sports and health, but also life skills, how to handle peer pressure and social-emotional development. I want to bring the best out of every kid that I work with to build their skills and self-confidence. I want all kids to have the same access to opportunities regardless of race and social status. Every kid should know that through hard work and determination anything is possible and to never allow their current circumstance to define their future. There are a few key organizations and people who will help me make this a reality: Plates by D. Swinton, HoopCulture and BodyArmor.
In the meantime, I’m helping remove the social barriers that prevent young people from being successful. Three times a month I go to areas in DC where the homeless youth typically hangout and provide them with meals. In the past weeks, I’ve donated clothing to low-income families. Shoe City’s Stokey Cannidy has been a major supporter in my community engagement efforts and they have done other great community work in Baltimore. This organization caught my eye when they brought an 18-wheeler truck full of water to Flint, MI. Things like that inspire me to keep giving back to the community.
SLAM: How did your childhood influence the work you do with the community?
CM: As a youth in Washington, I was able to take advantage of a lot of opportunities to follow my dreams, but there is another side of the city that made it very difficult to make the right choices to become successful. People know DC for the White House, national monuments, cherry blossoms and beautiful museums. However, to every beautiful city there’s an area avoided by tourists where drugs, injustice and violence are normal. I’m from that part of the city most people don’t see or talk about.
Growing up, I witnessed a lot of my friends losing their lives due to the violence that resides within a lot of DC communities. My neighborhood was one of the many that has violence, drug addiction, poverty, and high unemployment. I was fortunate that basketball was popular in my community. My love for the game kept me away from all of those things. Basketball was my outlet to understand there is a life outside of selling drugs and the violence of the city streets. I still take my basketball everywhere because it took a kid from the inner city to places I’ve only dreamed of going. I want to help the next generation achieve their full potential too.
SLAM: Why do you think it is important for athletes to invest in the youth within inner-city neighborhoods?
CM: Sometimes in life, a kid does not know their full potential until someone is willing to work to help them find it. I hope athletes and celebrities start investing more time and resources in empowering and mentoring the youth because some youth don’t have enough positive role models in their own environment. Things like sports, music, art and dancing are sometimes kids’ only outlet and the only role models they look up to are athletes, artists and celebrities. Imagine if these people were sending positive messages to youth and youth were listening to that positivity. Kids need to be encouraged by role models they could relate to with messages to keep working hard, never give up, and reminding them that you are who you choose to be.
SLAM: What advice do you give younger athletes?
CM: Don’t allow your current circumstances to determine your future because you are capable of being great. No matter how good or bad I think my life is I still smile through life challenges. I wake up every day thankful for another chance to inspire others. Focus on developing your own gift and being the best version of yourself. Use your passion as a tool to build lifelong friendships, to interact with different cultures, as a platform to impact lives, to earn a college degree, to travel the world, and to escape from the reality of your surroundings but don’t let your passion rule you. Many kids focus solely on practice and becoming better players. However, don’t forget to focus on your education as well. Education is the key to a successful future and life before, during and after sports.
SLAM: Are you still playing basketball professionally?
CM: Yes, I’m currently on teams that are going to China, Dominican Republic and Russia for basketball tours. But my main focus right now is helping other basketball athletes reach their full potential with their shooting ability and overall skills. For the summer 2016, I will be training NBA and professional athletes overseas. I’m also going to work with college teams to help their players reach the potential in their game.
SLAM: What has kept you motivated?
CM: The thing that motivates me most about the game of basketball is that I can encourage and influence the youth. The last six years I’ve been pro, I endured numerous injuries and minor setbacks. I haven’t let the injuries or obstacles deter me from my long-term goals.
Last year, while playing overseas in South America I had a near death experience. I had pulmonary edema which is a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs, making it difficult to breath. My condition was caused suddenly by living at a high elevation and required me to stay in the hospital. I couldn’t feel anything pass my belly button and I couldn’t walk. My ability to walk and move my legs was essential in my career as an athlete but as a laid in the bed for over three weeks I was never worried or afraid of not being able to use my legs again because of my relationship with God. Even though there was a chance I could die, all I could think about was finding ways to give back to the youth and getting back on the court to play the game I love. I grew spiritually as I learned to live by faith because God never makes a mistake. This experience taught me to never give up because God didn’t give up on me.
SLAM: Who have been some of your mentors along the way?
CM: For me, it’s important I never forget where I came from and the people that helped unlock my potential. Some of the best advice that all of my mentors have given me is to use basketball as a way to influence other people’s lives and not just use basketball for myself or let basketball use me. Everyday, I focus on how I can use my platform as an athlete to positively impact other people’s lives.
My very first mentor was my father; he passed away five years ago. He was a big inspiration in my life both on and off the court. He showed me what it took to be a man in a city where it was easy to become distracted and stray off the right path. At a young age my father would take me to Rudolph Elementary School to shoot every morning before school. My dad would make me make one hundred shots every morning. He would have me spending endless hours perfecting my shot. That’s what led to my hunger to perfect my jump shot.
My step-father and former NBA player, Delonte Taylor, also had a huge impact on my shooting ability. He showed me things that were priceless for my game. Another person that has a great impact in my life is former NBA player Craig Hodges. For the past two years, our talks have encouraged me to stay focused on my goals, both on and off the court. Dave Hopla is another shooting specialist who has also impacted my life. He inspired me as a child when he was the shooting instructor at a camp that I attended.
—Interview by Ashley Blackwell
—Photo by Sana Ullah