Brandon Matthews loves basketball. Through every dribble, every pass, and every basket – Brandon is watching.
Basketball has been a part of Brandon for his entire life. It’s helped him. But, maybe more importantly, it’s helped others accept him. Brandon is autistic. And…is nonverbal.
“There was a lot of unknowns. We didn’t know exactly what that meant, we didn’t know what he would or would not be able to do, or have challenges with.” Jason Matthews is Brandon’s father. He was a college basketball standout at Pitt in the late ‘80’s with teammates that included current Arizona coach Sean Miller and Jerome Lane.It would be that basketball circle that helped Jason and his wife, Jules, find the best situation for Brandon’s social and cognitive development – former USF head coach Orlando Antigua welcomed Brandon to the Bulls basketball family.
“Within the first week of coach Antigua getting the job, he calls me up and says ‘hey you and Jules need to see what we have on campus for Brandon," remembers Jason. "If you come down and you like it, then he is on as our team manager.”
With that, Brandon began his life at USF. But, just two and a half years later, Orlando Antigua was out and the search for a new coach was on. Once again, uncertainty crept in for the Matthews family.
“I couldn’t my wife I was a little concerned. I couldn’t tell Brandon’s two sisters that I was concerned," said Jason. "Luckily, we were out on the AAU circuit and a lot of coaches told me they would make a call for me to ‘BG’.”
BG – being Brian Gregory who was named USF’s new basketball coach in March of 2017. Gregory and his staff welcomed Brandon with open arms.
“Brandon brings energy every single day," said Gregory with a smile. "Two of the most important things I said, when we too over this program, was we needed to up the energy level and up the positive attitude level. Every single day he does that for our program and it’s infectious.”
One of USF’s assistant coaches is Tom Herrion – who’s son, Robert, is also on the autism spectrum. Coach Herrion felt a true connection with Brandon.
“When you are around somebody like that, and you get to know some of their mannerisms," said Herrion. "He figures you out pretty quick. And we get to have the joy and pleasure of having him around us every day.”
Herrion is heavily involved in raising awareness for autism. He and Towson head coach Pat Skerry co-founded ‘Coaches Powering Forward for Autism’.
“It was very overwhelming to see the outpouring of support we got from high school coaches, college," said Herrion. "I mean we had the rock stars with us like Bill Self and Mike Krzyzweski. It validated for us what our goal is, which is to raise awareness and how this directly impacts us, the people around us, our families, our basketball program and those around our program affected by that.”
Part of that family is Brandon. He is at every practice; every workout; every game. He’s either down on the floor or up running the practice camera.
“He comes here every day, he’s always in a great mood, you can tell he loves being here, and he does his work," said Spencer Smith, who is the video coordinator for USF men’s basketball. "Then after practice his dad puts him through a workout almost every day.”
“He did all offseason conditioning. He probably shot 30 to 35,000 shots in the offseason. Every team that Brandon has been on his teammates say to me ‘coach J, we got B, he’s good. We got this. He’s fine.’”
Acceptance. It’s a simple gift to give. But it means everything to Brandon and his family.
“As a parent, you just want your child to be included for who they are," said Jason."
“Our son and many of the people affected by autism are special and we say ‘they truly are special’ and you just gotta figure out how to get to know them” said Herrion."
This weekend is NCAA Basketball’s Autism Awareness and Acceptance Weekend. USF faces Temple at home on Saturday.