Ever since he was a freshman at Sabino High School, Matt Korcheck has dreamed of playing basketball for the University of Arizona.
Cochise College's Matt Korcheck has signed his letter of intent to play for Sean Miller and the Arizona Wildcats next year. Bruce Whetten/Douglas Dispatch
“I saw it was him and I ran out of class,” Korcheck said on Wednesday, hours after signing his national letter of intent to play for the Wildcats. “He just told me they were offering me a scholarship. I told him, ‘thank you.’ I was excited. We kept talking.”
He was U of A head coach Sean Miller, who had called Cochise head coach Jerry Carrillo the night before to let him know the offer was coming.
“It’s more than just the Pac-12. Arizona basketball is such a huge deal in Southern Arizona,” Carrillo said. “When Miller came down to a game here, I had to get him out the back way because everybody had their phone out taking his picture.”
Arizona’s Sports Information Department said that according to NCAA rules, Miller is not allowed to comment on a recruit until all the paperwork is completed.
As eager as the Tucson media and UA fan base will be to see the 6-foot-9 sophomore try to become the first Tucson-native to succeed in the Wildcat program since Sean Elliot, they will have to wait a year. Korcheck was adamant that wherever he wound up going, he would use his redshirt year first. Carrillo said some programs, including Marquette and Missouri, were ready to put him on the court next fall.
“It’s a good marriage — Arizona wanted a five-year guy because they have guys who are going to be one-and-done,” Carrillo said. “And for Matt, he’s in a situation where he’s still developing his feel for the game. You never know what your junior year will be like academically and socially, so for him to get to be a five-year guy is really good.”
Korcheck had been pursued by a number of high-profile programs, including Pittsburgh, Washington, Auburn and Oklahoma, the only school other than Arizona he visited. The Wildcats were the last to offer, but Korcheck said he never lost hope they would.
“I guess it was somewhat (in doubt),” Korcheck said. “But I always knew they had some interest.”
What Korcheck’s not looking forward to is the pressure of the public eye that will be squarely on him once he hits the Tucson campus.
“It’s overwhelming; it’s exciting,” Korcheck said. “I don’t really handle that stuff very well, but I’ll have fun with it. I just want to go play basketball. I’ve just got to take it as a good thing and stay focused.”
Korcheck, an Air Force brat who grew up mostly in the South before moving to Tucson in the eighth-grade, did not quite live up to his potential in high school. But in two years in Douglas, he became perhaps the premiere big man in the Arizona junior college game.
“It’s a great accomplishment for Matt,” Carrillo said. “He had two visits his senior year of high school — Northern Arizona and UTEP — and after here, he’s visited Arizona and Oklahoma and turned down visits to Washington, Pitt and Auburn. The two years here, he’s cut down two nets. He didn’t accomplish that at Sabino.”
After struggling somewhat his freshman year, averaging eight points and six rebounds, Korcheck came on in his sophomore year to average 15 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game on his way to second-team All-ACCAC honors on a Cochise team that won the regular season title.
“Mental strength,” Korcheck said, accounting for his improvement. “A lot of basketball is mental toughness and I think I’ve gained mental toughness.”
“He works hard in the weightroom,” Carrillo said. “He lifts, does a great job and has a great work ethic. At U of A, with their skill development and strength and conditioning program, he should continue to improve his body.”
In Korcheck’s freshman year, the Apaches took the fourth-seed to the NJCAA Region I tournament and rallied to win the championship game at Arizona Western. This season, the Apaches had a more impressive regular season, but were upset in the semifinals of the Region I tournament by Central Arizona, largely because Korcheck was fighting foul trouble the entire game. Korcheck’s foul frequency was his biggest bugaboo at Cochise, but Carrillo thinks that should be less of a problem for him at the major Division I level.
“He’s going from a game with 100 possessions to one with 65 to 70. That’s the beauty of him having a redshirt year,” Carrillo said. “It will give him an opportunity to learn their system and find his niche. He’s going to get to play at the 4 and 5 in the Pac-12 against guys 6-9 and 6-10. He’s not going to have to go against a 6-4 center anymore. In the playoff game, he gets called for fouls just for being bigger… He got penalized for being taller. But that part of his career is over, and I think he can become a better offensive rebounder because I don’t think he has to worry about fouls going to the glass against guys 6-10.”
Korcheck wasn’t the first of the nine Cochise sophomores to sign this spring. Last week, sophomore Nathan Sobey, from Australia, signed with the University of Wyoming.
“The main reason they recruited me was that they were losing a senior who played 35 minutes a game,” Sobey said. “I just have to prove myself, and then take those minutes.”
Sobey knows he needs to get accustomed to playing at a slower pace after thriving under Cochise’s breakneck tempo, which helped him earn first-team All-ACCAC honors with his relentless, attacking style.
“I just need to work on my IQ of seeing the whole floor,” Sobey said. “I need to slow my mind down but go at the same pace.”
While Korcheck and Sobey cut down one net as region champions their freshman years and conference champions their sophomore years, redshirt sophomores Jonathan Brooks and former Buena High standout Derek Lane, were part of three, thanks to the Apaches’ conference title in 2009-10.
Neither Brooks nor Lane will be playing at the next level, but both hope to catch on as student managers with the intent of beginning careers as coaches. Brooks, an El Paso-native, plans to enroll at the University of Texas, and Lane at Arizona.
“At Cochise, I learned how to play hard, how to prepare, how to put a lot of focus into one goal,” Brooks said. “The thought of (continuing) playing occurred to me, but I’d like to start coaching as early as possible.”
The remaining five Cochise sophomores have yet to sign, but Carrillo said Nnamdi Ezenwa was recently offered by Division I Idaho State, and is currently visiting St. Mary’s, a Division II school in Texas along with point guard Mark Simmons.Koyai Clauschee and Elfrida’s Saul Mancinas have been offered by Berea University, an NAIA school in Kentucky, and Clauschee also has an offer from Fort Lewis College in Colorado, Carrillo said.
With plenty of space to fill on next year’s roster, Carrillo has announced his first signing in Kendall Grover, a 6-foot-6 player from Thunder Ridge High School in Denver.