By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Matt McPherson sensed he looked a little awkward.
His 6-foot-5 frame made him gangly, and his coordination hadn't kept pace with his increasing height.
So coming into his freshmen year at Quincy Notre Dame, his heart was set on playing basketball. His mind wasn't so sure.
"I was questioning it," McPherson said.
Lagging behind other freshmen in conditioning drills didn't help. He called those drills an "eye-opener" because it showed what he lacked.
Yet, McPherson never lost faith in himself, his abilities or his determination.
"You can't have faith unless you question your belief in it," McPherson said. "I built my motivation and built my faith in myself to spend every second I could on my game."
Four years later, his faith is being rewarded.
Now a senior who has grown to 6-9, McPherson is a sizable force for the QND boys basketball team. He averages 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in 18 starts for a team facing two tough games this weekend in the KHQA/Subway SuperFan Shootout.
The Raiders take on Chicago North Lawndale at 8:30 p.m. Friday and follow up with a 9 p.m. game Saturday against Alton Marquette.
In both games, McPherson will be the tallest player on the floor, and the challenges he and the Raiders face should have them ready for a rugged Class 3A postseason.
"I think we still have some work to do, but I think we are ready for that challenge," McPherson said. "I know a lot of teams might not think we are ready for that challenge, but we definitely are. We have the competitive nature where we can go out and win games."
That competitive nature has always been there, even when McPherson didn't have a feel for the game.
"The awkwardness of being that tall and not having everything in line yet and working just right was evident. It was really evident," QND coach Scott Douglas sad. "He had to battle through some of that as the time was going on. Unfortunately for a kid his size, they are going to look at him and immediately say basketball player. Matt wanted to be a basketball player, but at that point and time, physically, he wasn't able to do the things he needed to do to be an outstanding player.
"That came later and came from a lot work to get to that point. It was a significant amount of work that kid's put in."
He hasn't gone at it alone.
McPherson has leaned on teammates such as Alex Fitch and Matt Doane for support and help. For example, Doane spent countless hours throwing entry passes to McPherson in hopes the big man could learn to catch them one-handed.
At first, there was no chance. Now, he snatches the ball cleanly most of the time.
He swats shots away cleanly, too.
"He's brought the intimidation factor, being 6-9 and whatnot," Doane said. "He's also brought a presence because he blocks a lot of shots down toward the hoop. It makes us easier on everybody else because we don't have to worry about zipped passes through the middle because he has his big, long arms up."
Those have always been there. How he used them was the challenge.
McPherson didn't play basketball as a fifth grader and was put on the practice team for the Quincy Aces traveling program as a sixth grader. He made the team as a seventh and eighth grader, but his minutes were limited and he didn't learn much about being a post player.
It created a huge learning curve his freshman year.
"A lot of the stuff he was learning was very foreign to him," Fitch said. "He had been on the practice team in middle school and eventually made the team. ... As far as Aces coaches go, they don't work individually with players. It's about developing basic skills like dribbling, passing and stuff like that. So when he came in, post moves and post positioning was pretty primitive as far as what he had so far.
"We really had to show him step by step. Whether its a matter of telling him once and him getting it or having to take him over to the side and work individually with him. We had to do what was necessary to get him to learn the skills and fine tune him."
Mark Bernbrock aided the Raiders in doing that.
During the past two summers, McPherson has worked with Bernbrock, a 1967 QND graduate who played at Louisiana State University and Quincy University. They get together three times a week and work on low-post moves and different types of game scenarios for anywhere from 60-90 minutes.
That effort is why college coaches are taking notice of what McPherson can do.
There's nothing awkward about that.