Originally published in SLAM 150

by Adam Figman / @afigman

SLAM: Tell us about your hometown.

Wesley Matthews (holding ball in team photo above): I grew up in Madison, WI. I grew up with a single parent in a tight-knight family: my mom, my grandma, my uncle. We had a good support system, where they were all strong individuals, and none of them had much of anything. I really learned how to grind and work from my mom, because she would work two, three jobs. That’s who I learned from.

SLAM: What kind of impact did growing up in Madison have on you?

WM: It had a lot. My mom would drop me off—I grew up on the west side—on the south side, and I would just go play. You really just learn to find your way, kind of like a momma bird throwing the baby bird off to go fly. That’s how it is. The community really accepted me as their own. I started coming up a little bit in the ranks and having some success, and they really embraced it.

SLAM: Are there any notable spots that you grew up spending a lot of time at?

WM: I grew up in the gym. My high school—[James] Madison Memorial. I had a lot of practices at the James C. Wright Middle School. JP Hair Design, my barber shop, you know [laughs]. That’s pretty much it.

SLAM: Why’d you choose to attend Marquette?

WM: It was a tough decision leaving home when home has so much to offer. But I had to go with what was best for me. Milwaukee is like a home to me, too. My grandma lives in Milwaukee, so I had spent a lot of time in Milwaukee. My mom would drive down to open gyms in Milwaukee and drop me off, and [I had to do the] same thing I did in Madison—find a way.

SLAM: You declared for the Draft in ’09 but went undrafted. Talk about how you felt after that night.

WM: It hurt. It’s so public. It’s just a public thing, and everybody around, back at home, knows you worked your butt off to hear your name called. It was like a punch in the chest because nothing’s ever been easy for us, and we kind of had the feeling that this was gonna be that turn. And when it didn’t happen, you just put your head down, but then you pick it right back up. It’s just like, you know what, we’ve been through this before. Let’s find a way.

SLAM: What were the best words of encouragement you received during that period?

WM: My grandma told me, “We got a rule at Marquette: You’ve got ’til midnight to be excited about a win or be mad about a loss. Once midnight is over, you shake it off and go on to the next phase.”

SLAM: When you started trying to make the NBA that summer, did you ever think, “Maybe this will never happen?”

WM: No, and that was the main reason I got to where I got to. I never let doubt creep into my mind. I took that pride of the city and pride of the state. The city and the state—we feel underrated. There’s a lot of talent in Madison, there’s a lot of talent in Milwaukee, and it just doesn’t get noticed. You don’t think Wisconsin has hoopers, and that’s a chip that I had. I want people to be like, “Oh, yeah, they got talent out there.”

SLAM: Do you get to give back charity-wise at all?

WM: Yeah, I try to give back as much as possible. I partnered up with the Boys & Girls club in Portland. I’ve done turkey giveaways in Madison and in Milwaukee. To people who have helped me along the way, I just want them to know that it’s appreciated, and at the same time, I want to make my city and my state better.

SLAM: Growing up, if there was only one guy you could watch play, who would it have been?

WM: It was Michael Jordan, then it was Kobe Bryant. Mike just changed the game. But those two guys, their work ethic is just unmatched, and that was why they were able to do what they were able to do. Even after years in this League, of course they were still great athletes, but playing the same way they were in their younger years, and just as or more effectively. And how do you do that? You do that by working, by developing different aspects of your game.