LOS ANGELES – Wesley Matthews is a Cinderella story. Undrafted out of Marquette in 2009, he earned a contract with the Utah Jazz and ended the 2009-10 season as Kobe Bryant‘s primary defender in the conference semifinals.
He then parlayed his first-year success into a five-year contract with the Portland Trail Blazers and is a top candidate for Most Improved Player, averaging 16.5 points for the 32-24 Blazers.
Matthews, the only Portland representative here in Los Angeles, will participate in Friday’s T-Mobile Rookie Challenge. NBA.com caught up with him briefly on Thursday as he made his way through the NBA Entertainment photo and interview circuit.
NBA.com: How do you feel about your team’s prospects down the stretch of the season?
Wesley Matthews: It’s going to be until the last game of the season to figure out where we stand in the playoffs, but we like where we’re headed right now. We finished off this part of the season on a six-game winning streak, and we’re going to try to keep it going.
NBA.com: As a teammate, how do you feel about Brandon Roy’s attempt to come back?
W.M.: We just want him to be smart. That’s what he’s doing. He’s taking his time. The biggest thing for Brandon is his health. As a teammate, of course, who doesn’t want an All-Star back in the lineup? But he’s got to do what’s best for him. And at the same time, we’ve got to continue to play.
NBA.com: What’s been the biggest difference for you in improving off your rookie season?
W.M.: I put in a tremendous amount of work [last summer], and opportunity. Work meeting opportunity, and just running with it. I have confidence and I’m playing this game that we love. I’ve been playing this game for a long time and I’m having fun with it.
NBA.com: What was it that you took from your rookie season that helped you put in that work?
W.M.: I just want to be better. That’s my job. That’s how I’ve always been. I want to be the greatest I can be at this game. And that’s what I work for.
NBA.com: What was your reaction to Jerry Sloan stepping down in Utah?
W.M.: I was shocked. I was surprised. It didn’t seem like Coach Sloan to resign in the middle of the season. I’m not in that locker room. I’m not a part of that team, so I don’t know what’s going on, but I was shocked.
NBA.com: What did you learn in your year with the Jazz?
W.M.: Just stay ready. Stay ready, stay humble, and never stop working. Whenever your time comes, make the most of it. He kept preaching that to me all year. My time came and I ran with it.