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PROVIDENCE — The Jan. 21 Greater North Atlantic Conference men's basketball game between Johnson & Wales University and visiting St. Joseph's College is a rematch of last year's league championship.
The Division-Three contest begins with 10 consecutive points for the home team. With just about five minutes gone in the opening half and St. Joe's trailing by six, sophomore guard Matt Medeiros enters the game for the Monks.
The former Westport High standout makes his presence felt immediately. He assists on a basket and then, with his team down 19-6, drains a three and cans a jumper on back-to-back possessions to spark a Monks' 17-3 run which gives them a 23-22 lead by the time Medeiros heads back to the bench.
"I come off the bench and my role is to give good minutes," Medeiros says. "We have a lot of scorers."
"We need him to score," St. Joseph's coach Rob Sanicola says. "He's the third guard for us as a sophomore. He gives us some scoring punch off the bench."
Sanicola remembers the first time he saw Medeiros play. It was during the player's junior year at Westport when he visited the Standish, ME, campus, situated on Sebago Lake, for a basketball camp.
"His coach called me and we were having a summer camp so Matty came up and played against some Maine high school teams," Sanicola says. "It was a good chance for me to see him play and for me to talk to him. Once we saw him play, we knew he'd be a good fit."
St. Joseph's College is located two hours north of Boston and 18 miles northwest of Portland. Medeiros, the son of Kevin and Jennifer Medeiros and brother of current Westport High players Ryan and Samantha, thinks the school is a great fit for him.
"I definitely like where I am. I'm with a great group of guys," says Medeiros. "I think that's key about college. You play sports you fit right in. You don't have to worry about making friends."
There still was a transition period for Medeiros, as there is with all students leaving high school and entering college. He had to adapt to a new social and academic life as well as to becoming a player on a new team.
"He's such a good kid and even a greater person," Sanicola says. "He does well in school and you don't have to worry about him at night. He's got so much support in the family. I give his family, coaches and teachers all the credit."
Medeiros, no stranger to the honor roll while in high school, had even more incentive to keep his grade-point-average up when he entered St. Joseph's.
"At the beginning when you first come in coach makes you do study hall," says Medeiros. "If you want to get out you have to get a 3.0. I got it that first semester so I don't have study hall anymore. That's good."
The extra time in study hall now instead is spent on the basketball court. Beginning with the second semester of his freshman year, that time has benefited Medeiros.
"When you come from high school where you were doing really well and were the best player on your team, you get to college and find out everybody was the best player on their team," Medeiros says. "Everybody you play against is quicker and stronger. You have to adjust."
Sanicola says, "Last year we knew what he could do. It was just a matter of him picking up our system. Being around basketball all his life, he has a great basketball IQ. His first game he was always in the right spot. You could tell he knew what to do."
Medeiros's initial contest came against Maine-Farmington, a 69-67 victory for the Monks. Medeiros, who averaged six points in 18 minutes of play his freshman season, scored 12 points in his first-ever college game.
"The first game I was really nervous," says Medeiros. "But once I started playing I realized it was just basketball. It's something I've been playing all my life."
His first year Medeiros helped the Monks win the GNAC regular-season championship with a 15-3 record. St. Joe's lost to Johnson & Wales in the tournament final and finished with an overall record of 20-8.
Medeiros and his teammates began the process of trying to rectify the tournament-final setback when they first stepped onto the campus grounds in the fall.
"In September we come in and we're already playing pick-up," says Medeiros. "Preseason starts Oct. 2 and that's hell. We have 6 a.m. conditioning, two miles every day. It's rough. You've got to get through it. We don't stop until March.
"You've got to really love the game. A lot of kids can't take it but that's what college is. There's a lot of commitment."
Sanicola says he can see the commitment in Medeiros the entire season. It doesn't matter if it's practice or a game the Westport native always gives tremendous effort.
"He's a three-dogs-one-bone kid. If there's three dogs and one bone, he's the dog that's going to get the bone," says Sanicola. "He's a fighter. He's so willing to give up his body.
"You know how quarterbacks wear the red jersey in practice? He should be wearing one. We have to tell him we don't want him taking charges anymore in practice.
"He's just so tough," Sanicola continues. "We need that. It's hard to find kids like him. We need some more of those kids. At our level it's a huge advantage."
Through Jan. 27 Medeiros was averaging 26 minutes-per-game and 10.6-points-per-contest. Sanicola says Medeiros played out of position a bit last year when he was used as the back-up point guard. That's because there were two 1,000-point scorers in the shooting-guard spot. This season Medeiros has moved, for the most part, into the No. 2 position.
"Shooting in high school was a lot different," says Medeiros. "I was getting shots off the dribble. Now it's more spot up."
Medeiros spots up for a three-pointer from the corner when he re-enters the game against Johnson & Wales with the score tied 27-27. The ball fails to strike iron and the teams head back up court. Sanicola can live with a Medeiros' air ball now and then.
"This year he started slow and wasn't making the shots the way he knew he could," says the coach. "I know he's kind of a perfectionist. Early on he wasn't quite sure. He was still deferring to last year's role.
"When I talked to him he said he was being guarded. I told him I knew he was going to be guarded but I still wanted him to take the shot."
After misfiring on the three, Medeiros completes his first-half minutes with a pair of rebounds and another assist before heading to the bench with two minutes left and the game tied at 33. Johnson & Wales eventually takes a three-point lead into the locker room.
When Medeiros enters the contest in the second half the Monks are up by six points. When he leaves four minutes later they're down one. Medeiros committed two fouls, missed two shots and, on a baseline drive, turned over the ball.
"I think I have to improve getting to the basket now for the next couple of years. I have to get more comfortable doing that," Medeiros says.
The Westport native is back in the game with 4:30 left and his team clinging to a 65-57 lead. Twenty-one seconds after running the floor Medeiros sinks a three-pointer to elevate the advantage to 11. The home team stays close and when Medeiros sinks a pair of free throws with 3:05 left it gives the Monks a 72-62 edge.
Johnson & Wales gets three straight points to trim the advantage to 72-65 with a little more than two-and-a half minutes remaining and the game still in the balance. Then Medeiros drains another three to push the lead to 75-65.
"He doesn't think. That's what you try to get your kids to do. Not many kids take that shot as a sophomore," says Sanicola. "I have confidence in him and his teammates have confidence in him.
"It's a tribute to the work he puts in that he's on the floor at the end of the game. He makes his free throws and he can stretch the defense."
The Monks go on to win the game 83-71 and move to 7-2 in league play and to 11-4 overall. Unbeaten Albertus Magnus sits atop the league standings.
Regardless of how this season finishes for the Monks it's a sure bet Medeiros will take on more responsibilities for the team over his final two seasons.
"He's going to set a standard here more as an upperclassman," says Sanicola. "If you want to get on the floor, you've got to do as much as Matt."
"This year I'm getting a lot more playing time," Medeiros says. "When I came in this year I already knew what to expect. Next year I'm expecting to get even a bigger role."