Grady Mateen once was enraptured by Georgetown, prizing his sweat- and honor-drenched jersey and the sky full of spires as things that most college basketball players would trade two or three inches for. His disenchantment seems to have begun when he decided he didn't do pine.
When Mateen reached the conclusion last March that he was tired of staring at his ankles on the Georgetown bench, he went into Coach John Thompson's office -- not at the best of times, since there was still one game remaining in the regular season -- and said he did not want to play anymore. Hence, Grady Mateen will be taking all 6 feet 10 of himself to the great gray campus of Ohio State University this fall.
Georgetown may show you the nearest exit or flunk you out, but rarely does an athlete with many things in his favor simply walk out. There have been exceptions, but they are rare. Forward Anthony Jones departed three years ago and went on to become a star at Nevada-Las Vegas. Then there is Mateen, who may be called by some the silliest player ever to run a hardwood floor.
"I'm not like a lot of fellas," Mateen said. "I worked most of my life to get where I am, and I'm not going to sit when I know I should play. Most people wouldn't have left Georgetown, because of Coach Thompson and because it's a great program. They would have been content to just be on the team. Well, I wasn't content to sit."
Mateen, who finished the semester at Georgetown, announced his decision Friday to attend Ohio State after narrowing his choices to the Buckeyes and Maryland. Under NCAA transfer rules, he will be required to sit out a year before resuming play with two years of eligibility in 1987.
It was a trade he was prepared to make. A forward-center with a soft touch and jump shot not typical of his size, Mateen came to Georgetown as an apparently prized recruit out of Central Hower High School in Akron, Ohio. As a sophomore this past season he was sixth on the team in minutes played and was projected to be a starter next season.
But like a number of college players each year, Mateen discovered that he had chosen a program unsuited to him. His differences with Georgetown seem to begin with style, for his potential never has been disputed. His departure, he said, was because of a lack of playing time that resulted from his failure to fit the Hoyas' "philosophy."
"I'd been thinking of it since January," he said. "I discussed it with friends and relatives and just came to the conclusion I would leave. I wasn't scared, I was excited. I knew I could contribute a significant amount of time somewhere, and I liked the idea of going someplace where I could start all over, play the way I like to play."
It's possible that Mateen also may not have suited the Hoyas. At 210 pounds, he is a slender, finesse player who has never been noted for his inside presence. What Georgetown has needed in the front court since the departure of Patrick Ewing is some banging-style dominance.
In short, Georgetown may simply have recruited a player who didn't fill the Hoyas' needs. That is the view of Central Hower Coach Mike McNeer, who said Mateen was signed "sight unseen" by Thompson on the basis of favorable scouting reports.
Thompson declined comment for this story.
"They should have known what they were signing," McNeer said. "It wasn't like Grady was a power forward in high school, and then suddenly he lost it. Maybe Grady made a bad decision, maybe he should have known more about the school ahead of time. But Georgetown's decision to recruit and sign the kid was a factor, too. It's not like he's changed."
Still, Mateen was one of the more prominent freshmen, and this season he became the first Hoya off the bench, averaging as many as 15 or 20 minutes per game early in the schedule. But as the season went on it became evident the Hoyas were lacking help for center Ralph Dalton, and Thompson looked further down the bench for bulkier, more aggressive players.
By the time Mateen left, he had played only 11 minutes in his last three Big East games, giving way to 6-8, 240-pound sophomore Ronnie Highsmith and 6-8, 225-pound freshman Johnathan Edwards.
Mateen's style seems derived partly from his personality; in conversation with him, one learns that he is more finesse than physical, an athlete who likes golf and tennis almost as much as basketball. He is retiring, considering, and guarded about his privacy. He speaks in moderate tones of majoring in pre-med, and having read "Gone with the Wind" four times.
But Ohio State Coach Gary Williams said he watched Mateen play while coaching Boston College, and he contends the material for a good inside player is there.
"Just because he doesn't look strong you can't say he's not aggressive," Williams said. "He got pushed around sometimes, but that's because he's not as strong as he could be. But there's a big difference there. As long as he wants to be aggressive, he will be."
Mateen contends he wasn't given enough of a chance to show that quality. The statistics are against him: he averaged only 4.2 points and 3.1 in rebounds in his appearances. But he runs the floor unusually well for a big man and shot 81 percent from the free throw line.
"I was a pretty good shooter," he said. "Objectively, I know I'm skinny. But I think I could go in and let the bigger guys bang on me. If I didn't get the ball in the basket I could get to the free throw line. But I guess Mr. Thompson didn't see it that way."
Mateen has not spoken to Thompson since he departed, but he said his withdrawal from the team apparently was civil enough.
"As far as I know, we're on good terms," Mateen said. "Ask him."
"I was extremely surprised, just as the team was," Thompson said when Mateen left. "You have a young man who's in the process of making decisions for himself, and you have to respect the fact that he made the decision. But I think that the timing was very poor."
Regardless of Mateen's philosophical differences with the Hoyas, he contends he profited from being part of the team.
"I learned a tremendous amount," he said. "People have said I wasted two years at Georgetown, but there was nothing wasted. It was very productive, and I would stay in the same kind of system."
He does, however, have advice for prospective Georgetown recruits.
"You need to weigh the pros and cons and try to look through the thick smoke," he said. " . . . I definitely wouldn't say anything negative about the program. But I should have asked Mr. Thompson about his philosophy in general, how things are run. I would ask a lot more questions."