A redshirt junior from Booval, Queensland, Australia, Matt Hodgson is in his first season with the Gaels after transferring from Southern Utah. He sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules has intergated quickly into the Saint Mary's program and is one of the top shot blockers in the WCC.
SMCGaels.com caught up with Matt recently to get to know him a bit.
Q: Talk a little about your decision to come to the United States to play college basketball.
A: There was a Christmas when I was about 14 years old and we had a family friend visiting. He was an avid basketball fan. My Mum was a basketball player but she never really pushed me into it. I was playing Aussie rules football at the time. I was too tall for rugby league, but I was really enjoying Aussie rules. I was really tall for my age. At the time I expected to go to college in Australia, get my degree and get a job. Our friend suggested I take up basketball, work to improve and try to earn a scholarship to go to college in America. I thought that was a good idea, but I kind of shrugged it off. A few weeks later my Mum asked me when we were going to start playing basketball. I didn't realize they were serious. So, pretty much from that point on I fell in love with the game and thought it was a great way to come over, get a great education and play a sport that I love to play.
Q: So you really didn't start playing basketball until you were 14 years old?
A: Yeah, I was a late starter. I was around 6'-4" when I was 14. The fellas over here have been playing since they came out of the womb, almost!
Q: Did you have basketball coaches trying to encourage you to take up the sport when you were younger?
A: Strangely enough, I never really hung around with the basketball crowd. The area I lived in wasn't big into basketball. Tall guys are suited for Aussie rules football. I was doing alright in the ruck and I was even thinking about taking it seriously and trying to break into the professional leagues. That would have been hard to do, though, since there are some really talented athletes that play Aussie rules.
Q: Since you started playing so late, how did you get involved with the Australian national team program?
A: I just loved to practice basketball. During the summer I didn't have that much to do, so I practiced basketball constantly. I managed to improve pretty rapidly. I obviously had a lot of physical tools, being tall and long and being able to jump. I got accepted into a statewide program, the same one that Jordey (Jorden Page) and Youngey (Mitchell Young) were in, the Queensland Academy of Sport. They basically train you, put you through an individual training regime. Through that, my coach at the time had some contacts to the AIS. When he thought I was ready to compete, they talked to Marty Clarke, who was the Emus coach as well. I went down there, worked out at camps and all of the sudden I was involved with the Australia camp. It was cool. I was lucky enough to make it all the way through and I had a really good experience.
Q: In your travels with the Aussie national youth program, where have you been that you enjoyed the most.
A: I was on an Aussie team that Adam Caporn was helping coach and we went to China. That was cool. We went to New Zealand, which is actually where my dad is from. That's a family secret, almost, that my dad is a Kiwi! I have to say my favorite place was when we went to France. We got to check out Paris. It was my first time to be in Europe and it was a really cool experience.
Q: Do you see yourself playing professionally in Europe after college?
A: Sure, that would be great. I would love to play professionally. The highest level I can play professionally, that's what I want to do. Whether it is here in the U.S., in Europe or back home like (Clint) Steindl. I'd love to play professionally, just about anywhere - with the exception of China.
Q: Patty (Mills) didn't have the greatest experience in China. Is that why you are averse to playing there?
A: Ha! Not really. It is just the food more than anything else. I don't know if I could survive on the food there. I am a skinny guy, already. If I stayed there, I would waste away to nothing!
Q: There are several Chinese food places in Moraga. Are you saying you don't frequent those restaurants?
A: That's westernized Chinese food. It is nowhere near the same!
Q: So, you decided to play college basketball and you chose to come to the U.S. and play at Southern Utah. What factored into that decision?
A: I didn't have a large number of options, really. I wanted to go somewhere a little bit different. I committed really early, even before I had gone down to AIS. When guys are at AIS, that's when they earn more attention from colleges. They receive a lot more exposure. I hadn't had that experience, yet. I committed early because I really liked the coaches and I trusted them. I thought it would be a good chance to come over and help try to turn around a program.
Q: When you decided you wanted to transfer, why Saint Mary's?
A: Saint Mary's has a great program, obviously. I trusted the coaches a lot. I was lucky enough to have gotten to know Capes (Adam Caporn) a little bit before I left for Southern Utah. It is good to have other Australians. I am good friends with the Aussies here. Mostly, it was because this is a good program with good coaching and I saw myself fitting in here with the team environment, the atmosphere and the way we play.
Q: Any surprises so far?
A: Not really. I had underestimated how good we were going to be last year. I hadn't been around a winning program in a while. It was cool to be around Saint Mary's and sit out for the year. I got accustomed the atmosphere of winning and believing we can win every game. We had talented guys and we had a big year last year. I think that was really good for me. It was good to see what winners were like. This is a program of winners.
Q: Who do you hang out with the most?
A: I hang out with Paul (McCoy) a lot. Jordey (Page) is my roommate. I try to switch it up a lot. I hang out with Beau (Levesque), sometimes with Jordey and Delly (Matthew Dellavedova). I like hanging out with Kyle (Rowley), Brad (Waldow), Stephen (Holt) too. I try to get around and see how everyone is doing. Even (Jordan) Giusti and (Chris) Reyes are fun, too.
Q: Everyone seems to play video games a lot. Are you into that as well?
A: No, not really. That's not my thing.
Q: Earlier you said your father is from New Zealand. So, technically you could have played for the Kiwis?
A: Yeah. But, I would never, ever want to. Regardless of if I could never play for Australia again. I would never play for New Zealand.
Q: Sounds like quite the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand.
A: It is huge, yes.
Q: So, this might sound silly but which rivalry is stronger in your mind: Australia vs New Zealand or Saint Mary's vs Gonzaga?
A: Ha! Before I got here, I didn't understand why there was such a strong rivalry with Gonzaga. Then, last year I got what it was all about. It makes sense now. But, I'd for sure have to go with the Australia versus New Zealand rivalry as much, much bigger. That has been such a huge cultural rivalry for so long. When Kiwi's come over they get abused by Aussies. Then, when we go over there we get abused by New Zealanders. A lot of it is tongue-in-cheek and all in good fun. But, it goes back a long, long time and feelings run really deep.
Q: New Zealand does have the Lord of the Rings and hobbits to its credit, though, right?
A: Yeah, they do. That's where the filming took place. There is some beautiful scenery in New Zealand. There are no snakes there, which I found really surprising. But, it is cold and their accents are stupid. We have a much better accent!
Q: Do you get a lot of attention from the ladies for your accent?
A: Yeah. I am batting way above my average with my girlfriend at the moment. I think a lot of that is attributed to my accent. I have to capitalize on that as much as I can, you know!