Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Matthew Hodgson has seen the light.
The Adelaide centre was without a team and, in the eyes of some, much of a basketball future two years ago, but he persevered, believing “there would be some light the end of the tunnel.”
Hodgson is now one of the premier big men in the NBL. He’s also a member of the national team, having been selected to man the middle for the Boomers at this month’s FIBA Asia Cup.
Hodgson and Perth’s Angus Brandt beat out rival centres Tom Jervis (Brisbane) and Majok Majok (Melbourne) to make the team, with NBA vets Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes unavailable.
“I’m really, really happy about it… just super excited and very grateful,” Hodgson told NBL Media.
It has been an eventful off-season for Hodgson, who signed a two-year contract extension with Adelaide before competing at an NBA free agent mini-camp hosted by the Dallas Mavericks.
He then suffered a minor calf strain on the first day of the Boomers’ camp; an injury which left him figuring his chances were blown.
“After I got told I wouldn’t be taking any further part in the camp I was shattered and I honestly thought that would be it,” Hodgson said.
Luckily Andrej Lemanis and his staff had other ideas.
“In the meeting room they said they knew what I could do and that I had showed a bit that first session and being a minor injury it wouldn’t hurt me for the tour,” Hodgson added.
“They’d obviously seen me play in the NBL and knew what I could do so luckily that was enough to get me over the line.”
— NBL (@NBL) December 3, 2016
Hodgson first formed his goal to play for the national team as a seventeen-year-old, when he’d watched the Boomers train at the AIS where he was a scholarship-holder. A seed had been planted.
“I was in awe of all the players and I thought it’d be really, really good to put on the colours of the senior team one-day and be in the Boomers,” Hodgson said.
“That day is here now and I am just stoked about it.”
The moment has the 25-year-old reflecting on how far he’s come.
After graduating from Saint Mary’s in 2014, Hodgson’s pro career got off to the rockiest of starts. A knee injury forced him to sit out the entire 2014-15 NBL season, with Melbourne United opting to sign Chris Patton ahead of him the following year.
There were no other offers on his table.
“It was pretty dark at that time… a lot of people thought my career was done,” Hodgson said.
Enter the Sixers, with head coach Joey Wright signing Hodgson to a multi-year contract on the advice of former Melbourne coach Chris Anstey.
“You’ve just got to believe in your own journey and not worry too much about what others think or say,” Hodgson said.
“At the end of the day that has no affect at all on your own path. When I was younger I really struggled with that, but now I know that stuff really doesn’t matter.”
Not sure if it's lame to be proud of an athlete. If not, I'm proud of Matt Hodgson for making his first @BasketballAus Boomers team!
— Chris Anstey (@ChrisAnstey13) July 24, 2017
Hodgson has spent time this off-season working with renowned NBA skills trainer Jordan Lawley. The two worked out in California and Lawley was blown away with the big man’s rate of improvement.
“I was so impressed with that young kid,” Lawley told NBL Media.
“He had the most growth and development over the time I was working with him, more than any one of the professionals I have ever worked with.”
That’s high praise from a guy who has trained numerous NBA players as well as NBL stars Jerome Randle, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress and Casey Prather.
Lawley says Hodgson came out of his shell during their sessions, increasing his ‘swagger’ and improving his moves around the basket. He also, it seems, learnt how to take cows off the dribble.
Cows aside, Hodgson says he’s keen to train with Lawley again next winter, ideally ahead of further NBA workouts and, hopefully, a chance to play in the Summer League.
“The feedback I got from Dallas was very positive,” Hodgson said.
“I was obviously disappointed I didn’t get to make the (Summer League) team but they gave me some clear cut things to come back and get better at.”
Those include becoming more of a pick-and-pop threat as well as getting quicker and more explosive around the rim.
The whole experience– as well as watching his Adelaide teammates compete in Las Vegas – has left him hungry for more bites at the NBA apple.
“I was super happy for (Nathan) Sobey and (Mitch) Creek and seeing what Torrey (Craig) did, it’s just good to see that guys from the NBL can get to that level and I thought, ‘yeah, there’s no reason why I can’t,’” Hodgson said.
“It’s definitely fuelled me to take advantage of this Boomers opportunity and have a great season with Adelaide and then really attack that after the season.”
Hodgson turned 26 this week. His prime is still ahead of him.
His ‘tunnel’, on the other hand, has long been left behind.
Hodgson and the Boomers will open their FIBA Asia Cup campaign against Japan at 11:00pm this Tuesday night, live on Fox Sports (ch. 507).