Exit Interview: Dakota Mathias
Exit Interviews: P.J. Thompson
Not only one of the finest shooters in the history of Purdue's program, but also one of the most skilled offensive players of its modern era, at least, Dakota Mathias achieved his aim of making a name for himself as more than "just" a shooter.
To the astonishment — and that's not overstatement — of his coaches, and himself, really, the four-year Boilermaker guard left Purdue as a two-time All-Big Ten Defense team selection as one of the most complete players to come through the program under Matt Painter.
It was far from a straight line, though.
Stifling health issues — injury and more so illness — marred the freshman season for a particularly ambitious player; the following season, he found himself in a maddening personnel glut at his position, and he didn't truly break out until that logjam broke up as the season wore on.
Despite the difficulties, Mathias leaves Purdue having made more three-pointers (250), and played in more games (141), than any player in program history, breaking both records during the postseason this year, just two of a litany of superlatives from his college career.
Mathias reflects on his Purdue career here in this Exit Interview.
GoldandBlack.com: How do you want to be remembered as a player?
Mathias: "I think just another blue-collar, hard-working player. Every year, I think I improved personally in a couple aspects of my game, and the numbers back that up. Just a guy that gave it his all every game, did it the right way, obviously. Just another hard-working Purdue guy."
GoldandBlack.com: When you look back at what you’ve become defensively, are you even still surprised by this?
Mathias: "Absolutely. Every day. If you told me four years ago I’d be All-Defensive Team two times, I would’ve laughed at you and called you crazy, but that’s something we thrive on here at Purdue, and Coach (Matt) Painter is a very good defensive coach, very detailed, and that’s something that’s really improved my all-around game. Going to the next level, that’s something that people recognize. I really thank him for that, and just the Purdue culture, because, like I’ve said before, I didn’t really play much defense in high school, but you had to here, and I think it helped us win a lot more games."
GoldandBlack.com: Do you look back at your freshman year as holding you back, at all, in terms of what you became ultimately? Or when you got through that, were you right back where you would’ve been anyway?
Mathias: "I think it was more toward the end of my sophomore year. I think it carried over for about a year-and-a-half. I wasn’t the same player I was in high school, obviously. It made me grow as a person, going through the adversity, going through all those tough times. It was really a blessing in disguise. I wish I could have that year-and-a-half back where I was healthy and playing the same way I was."
GoldandBlack.com: Your Twitter bio is “Never out of the fight.” What do you mean by that?
Mathias: "It’s actually from one of my favorite movies, 'Lone Survivor.' That’s the Navy SEALs' quote. It’s what they always say. Just something that stuck with me, even through hard times. You’re never out, you’re never down, so just keep fighting."
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GoldandBlack.com: Your first two years here, that’s what you had to do. You were all messed up your freshman year, and your sophomore year you weren’t getting the minutes you wanted. What got you through it?
Mathias: "It was being tough, not letting anything get you down. I always say everything happens for a reason, so it just made me a better player. I think it’s something a lot of guys can look at. If things aren’t going your way, you don’t transfer, blame other people, blame the coaches. You can always just put your hard hat on and go to work."
GoldandBlack.com: What was your darkest hour your freshman year?
Mathias: "I don’t think there was one moment, exactly. But as a whole, it was tough. Day in and day out, coming to practice, waking up and knowing I had to go to practice and try to do some stuff was tough in itself."
GoldandBlack.com: Chad Young said last year, "I don't know how he played." How did you?
Mathias: "I never wanted to sit out. I never missed a game. I take pride in that. I think that’s one of the best things I’ve done. Even in sickness or whatever it may be, always being available. That was the biggest thing. I never wanted to use that as an excuse or give the coaches another reason to not play me more."
GoldandBlack.com: I don’t mean being physically present. I mean being functional.
Mathias: "Focus. You had to focus a lot harder. I really don’t know. It was a tough time. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, but looking back I’m glad I did. It made me a better person, a stronger person for it."
GoldandBlack.com: And then to be healthy the next year, but then you’ve got this shooting guard Hunger Games going on where it’s you, Cline, and Kendall all getting a third of the minutes instead of two of you getting all of them. That had to be as bad, because you are what you want to be, but you’re still not playing as much as you want.
Mathias: "It was tough. You don’t hang your head or blame other people or transfer. It’s just a competition thing and it happens in college. It happens in the pros, it happens everywhere. Coming to practice and working every day. Something a lot of people don’t do, they blame other people. That’s not how we do things here."
GoldandBlack.com: The player you became. You were obviously one of the better players in the Big Ten, one of the better two-way players in the country probably. Was that your expectation? Did you exceed your expectations? Did you feel like you could still be better when you left?
Mathias: "I think you can always look back and think you could’ve been a little better, done things a little different. I did expect that from myself, being an all-around player. Labeled as a shooter, I never really liked that. I never liked that. That was part of the internal motivation to show people I could do everything. Hit a mid-range pull-up, play off the bounce, pass, defend, dribble, all that stuff. That was one of the motivations that I set out to do, to take away that shooter label."
GoldandBlack.com: Were you a better shooter or passer?
Mathias: "I’d say shooter, just based on the numbers overall, especially at this level. It’s hard to shoot, especially from three, at a higher level, running off screens and things like that. Still a pretty good passer but overall a little better shooter now."
GoldandBlack.com: Did you have something few others do that translated level to level in terms of your ability to see the floor and see things unfolding?
Mathias: "There’s people that have it. It sounds cliché, but it’s just knowing how to play. When you play a lot and watch a lot of basketball, the NBA, college, you pick up things and you see things a couple of plays ahead. I think just being around the game. I was always around it when I was younger, and the more you watch, the more you play. You pick up things, and I had the luxury of that as well."
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GoldandBlack.com: Best win for your career?
Mathias: "I would say either Indiana at home to win the Big Ten or Iowa State to get to the Sweet 16. I would say probably that last one just because of the struggles we had in the NCAA Tournament the first two years and then we got that first win, just to finally break through and have a program changer to get to the Sweet 16. I think that really brought Purdue back, especially for our class. That was something we really needed."
GoldandBlack.com: Worst loss?
Mathias: "Probably the Little Rock one. We were up, we were supposed to win, we were obviously the higher seed with a pretty good team and a chance to make some noise in the Tournament and just the way we lost and went about it was hard to swallow."
GoldandBlack.com: You also made the three that should have put it away.
Mathias: "Yeah, I remember that."
GoldandBlack.com: Who’s the best player you’ve played with?
Mathias: "It’s gotta be Biggie. Obviously his numbers were unbelievable and the way he could affect the game in so many ways. He didn’t have to go get 25. He could get 18-20 rebounds and he could pass. He was so smart, people don’t give him enough credit for how intelligent he is as a basketball player. He’s definitely the best player I’ve played with."
GoldandBlack.com: Best player you played against?
Mathias: "I would say probably D’Angelo Russell freshman year. Again, he was one of those guys who could score at will but also could pass. He was an unbelievable passer, could see the floor. Definitely him, just how skilled he was, and he was a lot bigger too, a big and strong and tough guard. I think he was just a tough matchup."
GoldandBlack.com: What’s the biggest shot you made?
Mathias: "This year against Butler. I’ve hit some good ones, but that was definitely the biggest one because it just sealed the deal and got us over the hump there."
GoldandBlack.com: What was the highlight of your career?
Mathias: "Winning the Big Ten at home against IU. I say that a lot, but how many people get a chance to clinch your conference title at home against your rival like that? I think it was such a great ending."
GoldandBlack.com: Tell me something people don't know about Matt Painter.
Mathias: "I'd say it's how much he does as much off the court for us as he does, making sure we have all our stuff taken care of. I think he genuinely cares about us as people and not just as basketball players. When we're done, he wants to make sure we're set up for life after basketball."
GoldandBlack.com: What was your favorite nickname?
Mathias: "Probably the Midwestern Cowboy, I think that was pretty clever and caught on."
GoldandBlack.com: Did you embrace that? You’re not really a cowboy.
Mathias: "I had to. It was pretty cool, it caught on."
GoldandBlack.com: Are you taking it with you wherever you go?
Mathias: "It’s probably going to stop here."
GoldandBlack.com: People started talking about you more and more this year in an NBA context. What makes you feel you can play in the NBA?
Mathias: "I think the NBA is a skill league now. There’s a lot of skill guys out there, they look for a lot more shooters, I would say. Guys that can make plays, guys that are intelligent too. I think I hit all those boxes right now. I know how to play the game. Obviously a three-and-D type is something people talk about. I think the way it’s moving right now as far as shooting and skill and intelligence, it’s something I can hit on and help teams with."
GoldandBlack.com: Is there a guy out there you point to and say, “That’s me in the NBA?”
Mathias: "I always looked at, even when I was younger, JJ Redick. What he did at Duke was unbelievable, but even now, running off screens, making reads, the way he shoots the ball. I think he’s an underrated defender as well. He’s a guy I always try to watch and pick up things from."
GoldandBlack.com: You’re gonna pick up your diploma and you’re going to pursue your career but you’re also going to get married next spring. That’s a lot of stuff coming at you for a 22 year old.
Mathias: "I think I do pretty well with handling stuff like that, I’ve always been pretty organized and more mature than my age, so I’m ready to take on anything."
GoldandBlack.com: When you’re done playing whenever that may be, do you want to coach?
Mathias: "I’m going back and forth with it right now, but most likely I will be coaching."
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