Carried in as a player with an all-around skillset – scoring, 3-point shooting, rebounding, facilitating – there’s an underrated twist to University of Miami freshman Matt Cross’ game that has played dividends to his success.
A consensus four-star prospect with offers from numerous Power 5 schools, Cross’ hard-nosed mentality and willingness to compete distinguishes him as a legitimate threat at the collegiate level.
“He’s a really, really tough kid,” Brewster Academy (N.H.) head coach Jason Smith told 305 Sports in a phone call interview. “He knows how to play. He’s certainly a throwback.”
Brewster, a prestigious boarding school that has won six NEPSAC Class AAA Tournament Championships since 2008, has had a plethora of players eventually make it to the NBA, ranging from Donovan Mitchell to Will Barton. The Bobcats have also sent over 150 players to Division I schools.
Smith has been an integral part of his programs success, adding key pieces to the puzzle, like Cross.
Smith had known of Cross’ potential way before he was at Brewster. Having played in other prep schools throughout New England and at BABC, a grassroots AAU program, the two would face each other on multiple occasions.
“We had played against [Matt] his ninth grade year when he was at Cushing Academy (Mass.) and his junior year at Woodstock Academy (Mass.),” Smith said.
By the end of Cross’ junior year, he had reached out to Smith after his then head coach, Tony Bergeron, took a position as an assistant coach at UMass.
Cross ultimately transferred to play for the Bobcats his senior season, averaging 18.6 points and notching team-highs in rebounds (10.0), blocked shots and free-throws. He added 41 percent shooting (84-204) from beyond the arc, a mark that Smith believes could remain untouched.
“[Matt’s] a tremendous, tremendous shooter. He’s arguably the best shooter we’ve had in the history of our program, which in itself is a statement,” he said.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward earned First Team All-NEPSAC Class AAA honors and was named a McDonald’s All-American Game nominee.
As for Brewster, known for producing notable NBA players like Donovan Mitchell and Will Barton, they finished their 2019-20 campaign with a 37-3 record.
Phrased as “extremely versatile” by Smith, the 7-time National Prep Champion coach saw potential in Cross way before he even stepped foot at Brewster.
“I knew that Matt was an elite college prospect before he ever played a game here,” Smith said. “He’s somebody that has tremendous upside, great basketball IQ. He’s going to have a tremendous career at the University of Miami. He has a skill set that will allow him to be evaluated by the top league in the world in the NBA.
“He’s got great size and ability to shoot the ball.”
Now at UM, Cross saw his first collegiate action Sunday against North Florida. He finished his 26-minute debut with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, seven rebounds and three assists.
Additionally, he became the first true freshman to start in a Miami season-opener since Manu Lecomte in 2013.
Streaking with confidence to shoot from deep and contribute on both sides of the court, this is just the start of an eye-grabbing journey for Cross.
“He’s always had that confidence,” Smith said. “That’s what makes him a tremendous player. Long before I ever coached him, I noticed that confidence and toughness, just an understanding of how to play. I think what he does, arguably as well as anybody in the country is that he’s got a tremendous perimeter shot. I’m expecting big things from him, I’m very happy for him.”
And while that journey typically takes time for any freshman in college, Smith believes Miami’s system, ran by Jim Larranaga, will help Cross blemish.
“Coach Larranaga’s tremendous, one of my favorite people to talk to in the business,” he said. “He’s got an outstanding staff, great program. I’m excited for their year in the ACC and one of our other guys in Anthony Walker.
“[Matt’s] a tremendous three-point shooter, he’s very coachable, he’s tough. He’s gonna be ready to play from day one, even as a freshman in the ACC.”
As for Cross’ role as a teammate, there’s nothing but positivity coming out of Smith.
“He’s a great teammate, very well-liked by all the guys in our program last year,” he said. “I think he’s somebody that you’d like to have on your side. You’d hate to play against because he’s not going to back down from anybody.
“He’s the ultimate competitor.”
For however long Cross ends up playing at UM, Smith says to not a expect a “rah-rah guy”, rather somebody that “is very blue-collar, does his job, not gonna talk a lot or run his mouth. He’s gonna compete, make shots, rebound and play great defense.”
The future of this UM team could soon lay in the hands of the Beverly, Massachusetts native.