"There’s a kid, he transferred from UCLA to BYU. Word is… He’s giving Jimmer everything he can handle in practice. He’s going to be a beast next year."
-- Every BYU fan in March 2010
Matt Carlino waited a long time to make his debut in Provo. While he waited, one can only imagine how lofty the dreams concerning his career were as he watched Jimmermania unfold in his shirt and tie at the end of the bench.
After joining and then leaving Indiana, joining and then leaving UCLA, and then sitting out a year for his transfer penalty (including the first 10 games of the 2010-11 season,) Matt Carlino was finally going to have his moment to play college basketball. His debut came against #6 Baylor in the Marriott Center, an arena packed 22,700 strong with a NBA scout in the building. One could not ask for a better stage. Carlino gave a great first impression – 7-14 shooting, including an impressive 4-8 from behind the arch.
Down the stretch of the game, BYU was trailing by 1. Baylor’s Brady Heslip came up with a memorable and agonizing steal off the freshman Carlino. The next time down the floor, BYU now down 3, Carlino tried a deep 3 with 11 seconds remaining and barely missed. AJ Walton was fouled immediately on his rebound and missed the front end of a 1 and 1. BYU secures the rebound and Dave Rose elects to not call a timeout. Baylor’s defense keyed in on Carlino. Leading to a Brandon Davies 3 point shot attempt at the buzzer that was blocked by Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, a player 13 inches shorter than Davies.
I remember distinctly talking with the people in my seating section on that day. "Carlino changes the dynamic of this team. If it clicks like it did today, we aren’t going to lose many more games." That statement, or some form of it, echoed throughout the arena that day.
That was it. Carlino’s first day in the white and blue, and he had become the x-factor for BYU. If he played well, it was very difficult to beat the Y. If he played poorly, BYU became beatable. If he had an average outing; oh, who am I kidding? It was either miserable or sublime. At least that’s what it felt like.
Carlino’s greatest moment of his BYU career came as a Freshman @USF when he drained 20 points on the Dons in the first 8 minutes on 8-9 shooting (4-4 3FG). It was electric stuff. It was a glimpse of what could be. It must have felt amazing for Carlino to play that well. Fans felt the nostalgia of Jimmer again watching him. To both parties, the modus operandi became to chase that feeling.
This was the moment the bar moved out of reach for Carlino.
That feeling became the gold standard for Matt. He wanted it. We wanted it. Anytime he fell short of 20 points in 8 minutes (or something similarly astonishing), he wasn’t living up to his potential.
Fans watched game after game as Carlino took his confident, carefree style to the floor. No matter how inconsistent, the potential for Carlino to go off was always enticing. Anytime speculation arose about an upcoming matchup against a challenging team, there had to be a moment in the conversation about what would happen if Carlino was on fire.
Despite his capability to have a big night, there didn’t end up being all that many of them. When they did come, it was great. It was like winning the "Crane Game." For some reason the machine entices you enough to throw a dollar in there, but you never expect to actually get anything. But on the off chance that the claw grabs the prize, it’s exciting, and a ton of fun. That was Matt Carlino. And that is why players like Anson Winder, Skyler Halford, and Craig Cusick received opportunities to start ahead of Carlino.
Carlino finishes his BYU career with a pedestrian 39.7% from the field, and 33.5% from downtown. His 12.5 points per game are a result of an ambitious 25.5% usage rate. And, sure, his career 4.6 assist per game will tie him for 2nd place all time, but that number should be higher. Especially when considering the blistering pace of play from his teams, not to mention the following of his teammates who have better shooting percentages from the field and from 3 within the same season of playing with Carlino:
Still, his play garnered enough attention that he was recognized as an All-Conference Honorable Mention his Sophmore and Junior years, matching the amount of accolade Austin Ainge achieved.
However, the play I will always remember occurred in Eugene, Oregon on December 21, 2013 against the #13 Oregon Ducks. The scoreboard read 100-95 with 2 seconds remaining in Overtime. Still competing and finding a way to draw contact from defenders who were trying to leave him alone, Carlino got himself to the line. He made the first free throw cutting the lead to 4.
It was a dire situation. BYU neither had timeouts, nor did they really have time to foul on the inbound pass and pray for a chance at another prayer, based on missed free throws and a pass and shot combining in 94 feet of absolute miracle. Still, the unshakable image of Kevin Nixon’s heave in Fort Collins lingers in the head of every Cougar fan at the end of close games. Maybe we could draw in a saving breath. It was all predicated on Carlino making his 2nd free throw.
He took a deep breath, and dribbled the ball twice with his left hand, as was customary of his free throw routine. What happened next took everyone on the floor by surprise. Despite being down by 4, Carlino intentionally missed his 2nd free throw, collected the rebound, and quickly darted to the 3-point line to fire a trademark wild, off-balance 3. He airballed. Game over.
Perhaps this moment sticks out for me because it’s indicative of Matt Carlino. The self-belief. The drive to compete. The unpredictability. The desire to be the hero. The constant reaching for something he can’t grab onto. He went for a 4-point shot.
Now he will be part of his 4th collegiate program. Whatever he ends up, I hope he finds his 4-point line.