February 6, 2014
Fighting through a maze of screens designed to impede the path of his defender, Matt Hart ’16 emerges on the perimeter with a sliver of breathing room. He receives the pass, sets himself up to shoot and releases…
A graduate of Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York, Hart has proven himself as one of the most dangerous basketball players in the NESCAC. He was recently awarded the NESCAC Player of the Week award for averaging 25 points on 58 percent shooting during a two game span. Week in and week out, opponents have designed their defenses to limit his impact and assigned their top defenders to guard him, yet he has still maintained a formidable scoring average of 21.5 points per game. The highest scoring player in the NESCAC, ahead of seniors from Amherst and Connecticut College, he has played a crucial role in reshaping Hamilton’s program as it continues to adjust to the rigors of one of the best conferences in Division-III basketball.
Hart’s basketball education started at a very young age thanks to the guidance of his father who played in college. “I started around age five or six and I just fell in love with it,” Hart recounted. Despite a competing interest in soccer, Hart explained, “As I grew older I knew basketball would be my sport.”
At Canisius, a perennial powerhouse, Hart did not even make the varsity team until his junior year. This was largely due to his small stature of 5’ 3’’ freshman year. Nonetheless, after several growth spurts in the following years he reached his current height of 6’ 2’’ and he’s not sure he’s done growing. As a member of Canisius’ varsity team, he became a vital contributor, averaging 15 points per game. He made an instant impact in his first year at Hamilton, again scoring 15 points a game and making 44 percent of his shot attempts.
Hart’s game is very similar to that of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who also happens to be his favorite NBA player. Coach Adam Stockwell reiterated this, saying, “Both guys are very good shooters and can score in a lot of different ways.”
The Warriors take advantage of Curry’s unparalleled shooting ability and aim to make life difficult for his defenders. Replicating this tactic, much of Hamilton’s offense is predicated on freeing Hart from his defender with intricate plays that have him race around the court seeking an open shot. Those guarding Hart are often exhausted after chasing him around the court and being clobbered by screens. Finally, with Hart’s extraordinary range and quick release, the window for his opponent to pester him in the middle of his shot is extremely small. All of these factors come together to make Hart a lethal scorer who is capable of scoring in bunches.
Coaches and teammates alike have lauded Hart’s work ethic. Coach Stockwell said, “Matt truly is a ‘gym rat.’ He spends countless hours perfecting his shooting ability and cares deeply about basketball success. His hard work has paid off and will add to our team’s success as we move forward in the coming weeks and years.” The constant refinement of his shot has enabled him to hit 48 percent of his shots from the field and 42 percent from behind the three-point line. Hart realized his potential in his freshman and sophomore years of high school and devoted himself to getting better in order to make an impact on Canisius’ competitive varsity squad. Teammate Jack Donnelly ’16 reasserted Hart’s diligence, “I’ve never seen someone work so hard. Any spare time he has before class, he’ll be in the gym working on his shot.”
Hart candidly noted the areas in which he needs to improve. In his two remaining years, he aims to increase his strength: “Teams put their most physical players on me and that can disrupt my game.” Opponents will often resort to dubious tactics, such as grabbing Hart’s jersey, in an effort to wear him down and get him out of his groove. Coach Stockwell added, “With any player that is an elite shooter, teams start to focus on them and look to take away open perimeter shots. The area that will help his development the most is in his ability to get to the lane and read the defense.” At times, when his outside shot falters, Hart has had difficulty against tall teams who crowd the interior. He also seeks to augment his overall game, saying, “I’ve always been able to score. Now it’s about rebounding, assists and helping my team win through other parts of the game.”
Despite all the time he spends on the court perfecting his craft, Hart manages to cope with the rigorous courseload that Hamilton offers. At the moment he is unsure of his major, but he is leaning toward communications and also considering history.
The Continentals are about to enter a crucial home stand where they will compete with teams like Tufts and Bates who occupy the bottom of the standings. They approach this stretch of games very confident after a narrow victory over fourth-placed Middlebury, in which clutch three pointers from Matt Hart and senior Greg Newton’s jumper with six seconds left handed the Conts their second NESCAC victory.