By: Tim Wilmes
Junior center Matt Stainbrook took his first steps onto the floor at Cintas Center on November 12, 2010 and was greeted by an energized arena and screaming fans. Unfortunately for Stainbrook, his first trip to Xavier was more unnerving than he would have expected in his first college basketball game.
“As a freshman starting in my first game, I remember Kenny Frease getting announced with smoke all around and seeing him on the big screen, and my stomach was churning. I felt the butterflies,” Stainbrook said.
As the starting center for Western Michigan University, 6-foot 10 Stainbrook battled in the post with the experienced 7-foot Frease and put up 10 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
Ultimately, the Broncos lost 68-65 to the Musketeers, but Stainbrook remembers more than his back-and-forth play with the former Xavier big man.
“I’m a guy who never gets nervous about games, but in that first game I was definitely nervous. I wasn’t afraid, but it was my first experience and I didn’t know what I was getting into, and Cintas was packed with 10,000 people here, it was crazy,” Stainbrook said.
Clearly, the atmosphere at Cintas Center stuck with Stainbrook. When head coach Chris Mack began recruiting him, Xavier stood out among the other schools who were hoping to land the Broncos’ center.
“I talked to a lot of different colleges. What separated Xavier from the rest of the schools was that it has three components that I was looking for: academics, athletics and is in Ohio,” Stainbrook said.
“Academically, you get the small class sizes, you get a degree from Xavier — which means a ton. Athletically, (Xavier) had proven itself in the past 10 years, it’s had really great teams and there have been guys who’ve gone to the NBA. When it came to being in Ohio, I wanted to get back here. It’s a little bit south of Cleveland, and it’s a great city.”
Stainbrook jumped at the opportunity to be a Musketeer, committing to Mack’s team just one day after his official visit. But for the Western Michigan big man, this was more than just a great place to play basketball and get an education from a respected school. This was a fresh start.
At Western Michigan, Stainbrook excelled and finished with 11.4 points per game and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game in his sophomore season. His defining characteristics, however, always seemed to be his size, long hair and goofy-looking Rec Specs. So when he committed to a new school, he also committed to being a new person.
“Coach Mack sat down with me on my recruiting visit and told me what he expected out of me — I was going to have to work hard, lose some weight and get in shape and be ready to work in my year off,” Stainbrook said.
He succeeded in his goal. Through hard work and long days of cardio, open gym and individual lifting during the summers and his year off in the 2012-13 season, Stainbrook transformed his body and crafted a new mentality.
“I came into Xavier at 305 pounds, and at my heaviest I was at 315 pounds. Today, I’m weighing in between 265 and 270. It was a total 180 for me. I feel a ton better, and I feel that I can still hold my ground and keep my strength that I had before at Western,” Stainbrook said.
Today, Stainbrook still wears his goofy goggles, but with a healthy body and a new basketball mindset. His glasses — and his playing style — seem a lot sleeker than before.
Now, through his continual hard work, Stainbrook has earned a role as one of the three captains on the current Xavier team.
“I really am so honored that I get to be a captain and I haven’t played a minute yet, and I give a lot of thanks and credit to my teammates for helping me into that role. I proved myself by working really hard in my year off, but they’re the ones who pushed me to work harder,” Stainbrook said.
“Every one of them I want to work hard for — there’s not a guy I don’t like on the team, and I love them all to death. Being one of three captains with Semaj and Isaiah entails being a leader on the floor. We have to be generals. We have to be the guys who make sure everybody stays in line and shows up on time. It’s doing the little things that’s important.”
Stainbrook certainly knows what it takes to do the little things right, and his work ethic will surely have a positive impact on the 2013-14 Musketeers.
Now, the Xavier center is gearing up to make his much-anticipated debut in the same place where he felt butterflies in his career debut: at Cintas Center in front of 10,000 screaming fans.
“I don’t know about butterflies, but I’ll definitely be anxious,” Stainbrook said.
“It’ll definitely be different than suiting up for a game at Western Michigan, but I’m very excited. To finally come here and get to play for Xavier — I’m glad (the fans) are all on my side now.”