Obi Toppin, he said, had a proposition for him:
“He said, ‘If you stay at Dayton, I’ll come back, too!’”
After a second or two of silence – for effect – Jhery Matos started to laugh:
“Obi was joking. We all knew, he was going. That’s his future.”
Toppin, the Dayton Flyers All-American and consensus national player of the year, has forgone the rest of his UD career, signed with an agent and almost surely will be a top five pick in the upcoming NBA draft and get the multi-million dollar contract that comes with it.
In a far different way – but for a similar reason – Matos is leaving the Flyers, too.
The redshirt junior guard from the Dominican Republic entered his name in college basketball’s transfer portal earlier this week and already, he said, some 25 schools have reached out to him because, as a UD graduate with a year’s eligibility left, he’ll be able to play immediately.
For Matos—like Toppin – it’s about the future, as well.
With him it’s about getting a chance to play extended minutes next season – rather than 8.6 per game average of this past year – so he can showcase his talents, be happy and one day play pro ball overseas, enabling him to better take care of his family back home, especially is mom, Zoraida, who raised him on her own.
While Toppin’s season-long aerial show left Flyers fans with their imaginations over-amped and their mouths agape – Matos was a guy who triggered the heartstrings of some of the fans most in the know.
People knew he’d had a tough road to get here, coming alone to the US when he was just 17 and knew just one person, no English and was scared. He bounced through two high schools and two junior colleges in four different cities in four years before coming to UD.
And then, just as he was settling into the 2018-19 season, he suffered a foot injury that required season-ending surgery.
When he returned this past season from the medical redshirt year, he found his playing time noticeably reduced. The guy who had been a junior college All American averaging 17.7 points per game at Monroe College and averaged 19.5 minutes a game at the start of his UD career was now a little-used sub put in mostly for defensive purposes.
Fans knew he had to be disappointed, but he didn’t show. There wasn’t any of the pouting and undercutting some disgruntled players in the past have shown at UD.
Matos often talked about all this to Jordy Tshimanga, his roommate and best friend, a 6-foot-11 transfer who had gone through his own injuries and struggles once he became Flyer.
“I told Jordy there was no point of me showing everybody how disappointed or mad I was.” Matos explained. “At the of the day, we were winning. You’ve got to be mature about it.
“At that point it wasn’t about Jhery Matos. It was about the Dayton Flyers.”
Although next season’s roster is in flux — with the loss of three or four starters thanks to graduation and the lure of the NBA – Matos didn’t get the assurances he was hoping for in an amicable, postseason meeting with head coach Anthony Grant.
“I met with Coach Grant and Coach (Ricardo) Greer maybe a month ago.” Matos said. “Coach Grant told me he was proud of me for the things I did and the way I handled myself.”
As for next season he said the coach could make no promises.
“I know I’ve got to earn things, but I needed to hear what there was out there for me,” Matos said. “ I want to prove I’m an offensive and defensive player, but to do that I need to be able to get in the rhythm of the game and play more than just a couple of minutes.
“I understand Coach was doing what’s best for the team and I was grateful to be a part of that and do what I could, but I just want a little more balance. With just one year left, I’ve got to do what’s good for Jhery Matos, too.”
He grew up in Santo Domingo and when he moved to Miami at 17, he played a season at tiny Calusa Prep and the next season went to West Oaks Academy in Orlando. After that he spent a season at East Florida State junior college in Melbourne and a year at Monroe College in New York.
Initially recruited to UD by associate head coach Anthony Solomon, Matos soon developed a deep connection with Greer, a fellow Dominican, whom he said he now looks at “not like my coach, but my brother.”
The very first game Matos played in a UD uniform was his best. In an exhibition against Capital in November of 2018, he scored a team-high 15 points, played shut down defense and had no turnovers. He came off the bench the first six games after that and then suffered the season-ending injury.
While he was out, he built a kinship with some of the other transfer players, especially Tshimanga and Ibi Watson, who were sitting out.
“We knew we’d have a special team coming into this season.” he said.
But when he was the only one of the 10 scholarship players on the roster who didn’t play in a 10-point victory over St. Mary’s in Arizona on Dec. 8, he was left shaken.
“We have what we call a group share and I was frustrated and told the guys I wasn’t feeling good here,” he admitted. “From that point on everybody was trying to hype me up. They said, ‘Let’s get together’ and we can do this and that. They wanted me to feel comfortable.”
“I love the guys. We are so close and everybody cares for each other. And once I got it off my chest, I didn’t bring it up again.
“It wasn’t about me after that. It was about the whole team.”
‘That’s why this is so hard’
Asked his favorite moment as a Flyer, Matos thought a second and then offered a surprising answer. He said it was setting up teammates to score, especially Tshimanga:
“Jordy has been through a lot, but he’s always there for me. I wanted to help him and actually his first basket ever as a Flyer in Maui (against Georgia) I was the one who passed him the ball. Before that. I was like, ‘I’m gonna get you the ball and you better score!’ And when he did, it’s something that will always stay with me.”
He said the toughest moment was having the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic end the Flyers postseason dreams before they even started:
“The worst thing was when they got us together as a team in Brooklyn and told us to pack up and leave. I felt this was our one chance. I really felt we could win the national championship.
“We still did a lot though. I don’t know if there’s ever gonna be another Dayton team that does all the things we did this year. It’s gonna be hard for the teams that come after us to match what we did.
“Some of the best things were the way the community supported us and the way our team came together. We really did love each other.
“And that’s why I was really afraid when I posted (on Twitter) that I was leaving, how everyone would react. I’d gotten close to so many people – they got to know me for who I really was and that had never happened before – and now I was saying I was leaving.
“But they all reached out to me with love. That’s why this is so hard. I’m comfortable here. I love my teammates, the coaches, the community. But I just I think I can do more and I’ve got to try it.”
He said he’s not especially looking for a basketball powerhouse or a school in some special locale, he just wants a place where he can better carve a future.
And yet he said nothing will eclipse his Dayton past:
“I know what we did this year will be with me forever. I can’t thank the coaches, my teammates and the community enough. This place became my family. It was my home. “