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Kearsarge’s Mattos getting extra time to play ball at UNH

  • Tayler Mattos, a 2018 Kearsarge High grad, goes up for a layup for the University of New Hampshire men's basketball team during a game against UMBC on Jan. 26, 2021, at Lumndholm Gymnasium in Durham. Mattos originally went to Bowling Green but transferred to UNH in April, Normally, he would have had to sit out a year of basketball after transferring from one Division I NCAA school to another, but due to COVID the NCAA relaxed its transfer rules and Mattos, and other transfers, have been allowed to play right away and retain an extra year of eligibility. Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics

  • Tayler Mattos, a 2018 Kearsarge High grad, takes a jumper for the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team during a game against UMBC last week at Lumndholm Gymnasium in Durham. Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics

For the Monitor
Published: 2/1/2021 6:20:07 PM

Every sport features a pyramid of sorts. The broad base of the pyramid represents all young players who start out loving a particular athletic endeavor — like basketball.

Early on, countless youth-league players aspire to play in the NBA or WNBA. As time passes, fewer and fewer basketballers are able to climb that narrowing hoop pyramid. Typically, only four or five high school seniors still pursue hoop dreams as varsity players, and only a small fraction of those go on to play college ball. And of those collegiate hoopsters, only a few ascend to the highest steps on the pyramid — the professional level, where there’s room for only the very select.

Which brings us to Durham and the University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team — and 2018 Kearsarge High grad Tayler Mattos.

The 6-foot-10 Mattos transferred to UNH from Bowling Green University in April of 2020. Due to relaxed NCAA transfer regulations due to COVID-19, Tayler’s already playing for UNH coach Billy Herrion and his Wildcats — and playing well. That’s good news for UNH fans because Mattos is that rare Granite State native with the size and talent to excel at the Division I level. And more good news is that the NCAA declared 2020-21 a “lost year” due to COVID-19, so now student-athletes will get a “free” season of eligibility, meaning Mattos will still get to play two more years at UNH after the current season concludes.

As a sophomore at Kearsarge, Mattos teamed up with older brother, Zach, then a 6-10 senior at Kearsarge, to help the Cougars to the 2016 NHIAA Division III title game.

“Zach’s been about the most influential person in my life,” Tayler said. “He’s always been there for me. He has a great work ethic and he pushed and inspired me to do things the right way and to be the best person or player I can be.”

Zach is currently ascending a different athletic pyramid as a baseball pitcher at Bryant and Stratton College near Albany, N.Y. As close as Zach and Tayler are, they differ in terms of favorite baseball teams. One loves the Red Sox while the other loves the Yankees. The identity of the Yankee fan will be withheld to protect the innocent.

After Zach graduated from Kearsarge, Tayler led the Cougars to their first and only D-III hoop title in 2017. Kearsage moved up to D-II the next year and finished 14-4, but repeat championship dreams were dashed when the Cougars lost a first-round home playoff game to Merrimack Valley on a three-pointer at the buzzer.

That didn’t stop Mattos from his climb on the hoop pyramid. He still traveled around the country playing in AAU basketball tournaments and attracting the attention of numerous Division I college scouts. Bowling Green University’s veteran head coach Michael Huger invited Tayler to visit the school’s Ohio campus and a few days later Mattos committed to play for the Falcons.

After seeing limited action as a freshman, Mattos became a starter during the 2019-20 season.

“My best memories from Bowling Green involve beating No. 14 Buffalo at home before a sellout crowd and seeing our fans storm the court afterwards,” Mattos said. “And the MAC playoffs at Rocket Mortgage Arena in Cleveland were awesome. But my best memories are of hanging out with my teammates on and off the court.”

While Mattos clicked with his peers, he realized Bowling Green’s style would leave him as a role player in a guard-oriented offense. So he assessed his options by entering the NCAA’s transfer portal. He received plenty of attention of college coaches, but Herrion’s offer to bring him back to New Hampshire really resonated.

“Coach Herrion described what UNH had going on and indicated that I could fit in nicely with his program,” Tayler said. “And the idea of returning home to play in front of family, friends and the whole New Hampshire community certainly appealed to me.”

UNH’s Tayler Mattos era commenced on Dec. 27 when Mattos scored 10 points to go along with five rebounds to help the Wildcats to a 77-69 conference win over Hartford.

Mattos soon moved into the Wildcat starting five, but suffered a setback three minutes into a home game against Albany on Jan. 23. Mattos switched to cover Great Dane star C.J. Kelley who was driving to the hoop when a Kelly elbow caught Mattos square in the mouth, knocking out several teeth.

A quick trip to an oral surgeon in Dover mitigated the damage, but dental implants will be a permanent reminder of the challenges that go with ascending that hoop pyramid. Still, Mattos remains undaunted and his goal remains to help UNH compete for its first-ever America East title this year. And next year. And the year after that.

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