Guest commentary: Farewell Matt Carlino, thanks for the memories

By Ken Driggs

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 7 2014 1:50 p.m. MDT

BYU's Matt Carlino and Luke Worthington high five fans after beating Saint Mary's in a men's basketball game at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. BYU won 84-71.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Matt Carlino was well known in our Driggs family. Matt's dad, Mark, was a star basketball player for Arizona State University and was a good friend of my cousins, Pete and Adam Driggs. As sophomores at Gilbert Highland High School in Arizona, the young Carlino and his teammate, Nick Johnson, took Highland to the finals of the state basketball tournament.

After Carlino left Highland for a fling at Indiana basketball and Johnson enrolled at Findley Prep in Las Vegas, both appeared to be headed for stardom. Johnson took the more conventional route and enrolled at the University of Arizona after two years at Findley. Johnson recently finished a sterling career at Arizona and is headed to the NBA.

Carlino took the unconventional route of playing only one year in Indiana, graduated from high school early, and enrolled at UCLA to play college basketball at an age when every other budding star would be a senior in high school. Carlino found the UCLA program unsettling and intimidating and quickly looked elsewhere to find a more comfortable team environment where he could utilize his outstanding basketball skills.

BYU was going through the peak of "Jimmermania" during Jimmer Fredette's senior season, and it was arranged to have former BYU football star Brad Clark escort Carlino to the Arizona-BYU game on the Utah Jazz home court in Salt Lake City.

With Fredette, Jackson Emery and company putting on an impressive display that afternoon, the Cougars soundly defeated the Wildcats and their star Derrick Williams. There was no doubt that BYU could play with the upper echelon of teams around the country. Within one week, Carlino made his decision. It was BYU.

The decision couldn't have come at a better time for BYU. With Fredette and Emery finishing their eligibility, Carlino looked the part of the heir apparent. Court presence, excellent passer and shooter and all around ballplayer were attributes that would help BYU make the transition to continuing success in the post-Fredette era.

Carlino got to work out with the BYU team for the rest of the season and learn the offense and defense strategies of coach Dave Rose and staff. As a non-LDS athlete in Provo, Carlino was able to feel comfortable on campus and with friends.

The stage was set. Carlino would begin his BYU careeer at home against a highly rated Baylor team. He got a huge ovation from the avid BYU fans as he stepped onto the floor early in the first half. It didn't take long for the Cougar fans to witness what they had been hoping to see. Carlino had 18 points in a losing cause, including four 3-point shots, one of which brought back memories of the Fredette magic.

After a tough loss to St. Mary's at the Marriott Centeer, the Cougars faced a vaunted Gonzaga team in Provo. Carlino teamed with Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies to defeat the Bulldogs and keep the Cougars in the upper echelon of the West Coast Conference.

In one of the most memorable games of his career, Carlino almost singlehandedly defeated the USF Dons in San Francisco. He lit up the scoreboard early in a spectacular shooting display, and then finished off his 30-point performance with a clutch driving shot to win the game. BYU finished the season with a record-setting come-from-behind win in the NCAA tournament before losing to Marquette, but the appetite had been whetted. Good times were still ahead, and Carlino's future as a Cougar looked bright.

Carlino's shave-headed entry into his sophomore season was less than spectacular. As his hair grew, so did his game, and he was back on track to carry the Cougars to a close win over rival Utah in Provo. He made the key plays and shots to go along with his team-leading 19-point effort. Carlino also led the team in scoring with 21 points in a big win at home against Loyola Marymount. He followed that with another outstanding performance in a win over the USF Dons in San Francisco.

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