The newest Dayton Flyers recruit, Jhery Matos, closed the announcement of his commitment with this line Sunday on Twitter: "Don't let the fear of flying keep you from falling."
That’s a fitting quote because Matos, a 6-foot-6 guard with two years of eligibility remaining, had to travel a long way to chase his basketball dream. He grew up in the Villa Juana neighborhood of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Basketball ruled in his part of the city — even if the country may be more famous for producing Major League Baseball talent — and Matos played for a club team called Mauricio Baez.
“That’s been a historic club,” said Ivan Almonte, a Dominican Republic native who played professional basketball in France. “They have great players there.”
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Almonte, who now lives in Miami, knew Matos when he lived in the Dominican Republic. He helped convince him to come to the United States to play basketball and get an education. Matos’ family was reluctant to let him go at first.
“They didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Almonte, now a basketball skills coach and strength trainer in Florida. “I talked to the family and told them, ‘This is the best chance you have for Jhery to have a different life than he’s going to get even if he’s a good basketball player in the Dominican Republic.’ He’s a hard-working kid. He came from a great family. His family sticks together. He has great support.”
Matos, who announced his verbal commitment to Dayton on Sunday after watching Dayton beat Fordham 80-70 at UD Arena on Saturday, came to the United States for his final two years in high school. He attended Calusa Prep in Miami for one year and then spent his senior year at West Oaks Academy in Orlando.
Matos’ coach at West Oaks, Kenny Gillion, described Matos as the team’s most versatile player.
“He could shoot the ball really well and also play above the rim and run the point,” said Gillion, who also coached Matos in AAU basketball with Team Breakdown. “Everything for him seemed so effortless. He could sky for a rebound. He was just really graceful.”
Gillion heard a month ago from Dayton assistant coach Ricardo Greer that Dayton was recruiting Matos. Then he heard from Dayton assistant James Kane last weekend that Matos was visiting Dayton.
Gillion goes way back with Kane. He was an assistant coach at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., when Kane was a student. From talking to Kane, Gillion believed Dayton would be a good place for Matos.
“With the good relationship we have, he’s not going to sugarcoat anything,” Gillion said. “He’ll tell you if it’s a good fit or not a good fit.”
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When Matos arrived in the United States, learning English and acclimating to school was one of the first priorities. That wasn’t as easy to do in Miami, Almonte said, because so many people speak Spanish there. You can get by without English.
Almonte identified with what Matos was experiencing because he left the Dominican Republic to play junior college basketball in Iowa.
“I always talk to him and tell him all the time I know you can make it in basketball,” Almonte said. “I’m not sure if you’re going to make it to the NBA or not, but you can make a life in basketball. School is always going to come first.”
After high school, Matos played one season of junior college basketball at Eastern Florida State. He averaged 5.3 points per game in the 2016-17 season.
This season, at another junior college, Monroe College in Bronx, N.Y., Matos has averaged 17.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He shoots 43.7 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from 3-point range and 71.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Almonte praised the athleticism of Matos and said while he has to work on his shot, he can get to the basket and he’s scrappy.
“He’s going to do a lot of stuff you’re not going to see in the stats,” Almonte said. “He grew up playing with older guys. You have to be scrappy. You have to be able to dive for a loose ball. Coaches see when he’s on the floor he’s helping the team all the time.”
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Among the other schools recruiting Matos was Eastern Tennessee State, which he visited Feb. 3. Greer played a big part in the recruitment of Matos. He was born in the United States, but has family from the Dominican Republic and he played for the Dominican Republic national team from 1999-2009.
Almonte has known Greer since the 1990s and said he always looked up to him. They played against each other in France, where Greer starred for many years.
Having somebody like Greer on Dayton’s staff, somebody they could trust, helped Matos pick Dayton.
“He has no family here,” Almonte said. “We have to trust other people to be able to make it here. I’m glad (Greer’s) there right now. It’s a great school.”