Michigan fans, meet the real J.C.
Mathis.

Mira Levitan

Ever since Mathis had transferred from Virginia to Michigan
before last season, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and the rest of the
Wolverines had preached how valuable Mathis would be to this
team.

After sitting out the year the NCAA requires for transfers,
Mathis made a ho-hum debut in his first three games as a Wolverine,
averaging four points and three rebounds.

But last night, when Michigan needed him most, Mathis earned his
reputation as a hard-working, enthusiastic, tenacious basketball
player. Mathis, who was named captain of the Wolverines for this
season before ever playing a game, seemed like he was everywhere in
his 23 minutes against North Carolina State, finishing with nine
rebounds, six points, and an immeasurable impact on
Michigan’s victory.

“He’s an experienced guy who can get things
done,” Michigan forward Bernard Robinson said. “He
showed that — you couldn’t ask for it at a better time.
He’s big-time, and he showed that.”

Mathis is a posterboy for Amaker’s
defense-leads-to-offense scheme.

Mathis will never be Michigan’s first option on the
offensive end, but when the Wolverines are desperate for energy in
the defensive low post — like they were last night —
then Mathis is as good of a choice as any.

Last night, N.C. State was giving Michigan fits thanks to the
Wolfpack’s undersized, but quick, forwards. The Wolfpack were
having success when their big men took Michigan centers Chris
Hunter and Courtney Sims off the dribble, leading to matchup
problems for the rest of the Wolverines.

Enter Mathis.

“I think more than anything else, he gave us a toughness
(and) a player with valuable experience out there,” Amaker
said. “I thought we are young, and we looked even younger at
times going against (N.C. State forward Marcus) Melvin and (center
Ilian) Evtimov. Those are experienced ballplayers, so with J.C.
coming in and being able to guard those guys was
critical.”

Without question, Mathis had an advantage over the rest of the
Wolverines thanks to the five times he had faced N.C. State and its
motion offense when he was playing for Virginia.

But having knowledge and putting it to use are two entirely
different things. Mathis proved last night that his experience
could be a huge boost for the Wolverines all season.

“J.C. came in and played big,” Michigan forward
Brent Petway said. “He did everything we needed him to do
— it’s the best I’ve seen him play all
year.”

“I guess it was my best game of the season,” Mathis
said. “But I was fortunate — we have a very good
frontcourt, it could’ve been anybody. Fortunately, it was me.

It was just one fundamental display after another from Mathis in
the win.

“I thought J.C. Mathis’ minutes were
critical,” Amaker said. “He was really a terror on the
backboards for us, and it was really a shot in the arm.”

When he wasn’t grabbing rebounds, he was maintaining his
position so another Wolverine could. He was diving into the front
row of the stands for a loose ball. He was cutting to the basket to
receive a wide-open layup off a pass from Robinson.

He was exactly what every Michigan coach and player has been
saying he could be since he transferred from Virginia.

And now everyone else knows it, too.

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

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