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.
Carlino led the Cougars to a road win at Portland with a 24-point outing and comprised a part of the big three for BYU, including Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies. Carlino also iced the Pepperdine game in Malibu with a last-minute fade away 3-point shot. He had 28 points to lead the Cougars to a win over Santa Clara in the Marriott Center.
BYU was disappointed to settle for the National Invitation Tournament to conclude the 2013 season, but the Cougars made one of their best runs in tournament history, defeating Washington, Mercer and Southern Mississippi before falling to Baylor in New York City. Carlino's passing, shooting and overall court play were a major factor in the Cougars' success. With Haws and Carlino leading the players coming back for the next season, optimism prevailed.
The optimism proved true early the next season. Haws had 31 points and Carlino scored 26 in a road win at Stanford. Haws, Carlino and company valiantly tried to stave off highly ranked Iowa State in Provo before losing, but who could forget the half-court lob from Carlino to Eric Mika for a slam dunk in the first half when the Cougars were on a run?
After a midseason team slump, Carlino accepted the role of coming off the bench to add a spark to the team. The venture worked, and Carlino's productivity increased significantly. In a twisted sense, Carlino became even more of a fan favorite and he and the team flourished with his new role. When Haws had 31 points, Kyle Collinsworth 20 and Carlino 19 in a big home win over Loyola Marymount, the Cougars were hitting on all cylinders.
Carlino had his traditional excellent game in San Francisco in a win over the Dons, and then came off the bench to score all of his 11 points in the second half to lead the Cougars to a tough win over the Dons in Provo. He did all he could do with 28 points against Pacific at Stockton in a shocking loss. In the win over Gonzaga in Provo, Carlino had six assists, as Anson Winder led the team in scoring. Carlino made critical shots and plays down the stretch to ice the victory.
Another sterling example of Carlino's talents came late in the season in a home win over Portland. Carlino seemingly could not miss as he racked up 30 points, including eight 3-point shots. If you ever want to get nostalgic for the Carlino days, crank up the DVR to the Portland-BYU game in Provo.
Carlino helped BYU gut out an overtime win against the San Francisco Dons in the WCC tournament, but a loss to Gonzaga in the finals and a one-and-done against Oregon in the NCAA tournament left the Cougar fans wanting more from Carlino's expected senior season. But it wasn't to be, and we wish him all the best in his one year at Marquette. He is gone, but special memories remain. Thanks, Matt.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at [email protected].