One by one, they entered the Grain Valley High School gymnasium, a special group of high school basketball players who have one thing in common.
While they now play for their respective prep teams, many of them learned about the game from Courtney Matlon, the mother of Grain Valley High School guard Caden Matlon.
Most of these prep players – Branden Marsh, Oak Grove; Javaunte Hawkins, Lee’s Summit North; Landon Wallace, Lee’s Summit; Cooper Willich, Blue Springs; Caleb Israelite, Blue Springs South; Eli Wyckoff, Oak Grove; Gavin Oyler, Grain Valley; Cade Berg, Blue Springs South; Ty Baker, Fort Osage; and Matlon, Grain Valley – played for Courtney Matlon from first through eighth grade and collected enough trophies and medals to fill an entire bedroom.
But more than the medals, trophies and victories, they learned something else.
“Mrs. Matlon taught us how to win, how to act out on the court, how to act off the court and how to grow up to be good young men in our communities,” said Hawkins, a senior guard who led Lee’s Summit North to a third-place finish in state and who is a finalist for the DiRenna Award, which goes to be the best prep player in the metro area.
“She was the hardest coach I played for. She made me a better basketball player, but more importantly, she made me a better person. I didn’t know what she was doing back when I was a little kid, but I know what she was doing now, and I can’t thank her enough for what she did.”
Ty Baker, a standout from Fort Osage who will join Hawkins on Team Missouri in the DiRenna All-Stars Kansas vs. Missouri all-star game.
“I think I started playing for the Wolfpack in second grade and went all the way up until I got to middle school,” said Baker, who will play quarterback at Missouri State University in the fall.
“I look around at all these guys and just smile because I have known, and played, with most of them all my life. People always ask us what it was like to have a mom coach us, and we never thought about Mrs. Matlon being Caden’s mom – she was just our coach. And she was a great coach.
“Look at the talent in this room - and she’s responsible for so much of our success. It’s fun to get back with the guys on the Wolfpack and talk about that team.”
When asked about playing for his mother, Caden just smiles.
“She knows more about basketball than I do,” Caden said, “she knows more about basketball than I ever will. I can’t even imagine playing for anyone else but my mom.”
Before she was married, Courtney Matlon was a standout on the undefeated, 31-0 Oak Grove state championship basketball team from a memorable 1992 season.
Like most of the boys on her team, Courtney Matlon grew up with a basketball in her hand.
“We never went out and tried to recruit the best boys, we just got a group of boys who were good friends and put together a basketball team that had a lot of success,” she said, with a touch of pride in her voice. The thing I am most proud of is looking at these guys – they’re great kids! They represent their teams and their communities and are youngsters you can be proud of away from the game.
“We taught each one of them to be able to play every position on the court – and a lot of them are doing that for their basketball teams now. I put my heart and soul into our teams and my boys gave me their hearts and their souls and it was so much fun. I miss it and I miss them, but I couldn’t be prouder of each and everyone of them today.”