Walking-on to the future: Matt Lang’s journey with the Bulldogs
Being a walk-on as a collegiate athlete is no easy task, not to mention at a program like the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team. But GU men’s basketball player Matthew Lang has followed his love for the game since high school, finding his spot and role on one of the best collegiate programs in all of college athletics.
Lang’s love for basketball started when his dad played in junior college at Lower Columbia College in Longview, Washington, spreading love of the game to his son and coaching him in middle school.
“He was always my coach when I was in grade school and middle school,” Lang said. “It’s something that we just connected over, so his love for the game transitioned into me.”
Lang’s developed passion for hoops transferred over to high school. He attended Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, where he averaged 15.4 points per game and took Jesuit to the quarterfinals round of the OSAA Class 6A tournament his senior year.
When Lang played for his AAU team, GU had attended his games, but not for Lang. They were originally there to look at Lang’s teammate Kamaka Hepa, who was being heavily recruited by GU at the time. Hepa would eventually go to the University of Texas and later transfer to the University of Hawaii, but assistant coach Brian Michaelson, a Jesuit alumnus, reached out to Lang and offered him a preferred walk-on spot on the team.
“I enjoy being around him,” Michaelson said. “He’s easy to get along with… I think Matt and I share times of what [it’s like] back home in Portland. To talk about when he was in high school versus when I was in high school, people that we know from the Portland area that we have mutual connections to, I think those are fun things to reminisce and share with Matt.”
Like most walk-on players, Lang had to take it on himself to get the reps he needed to make the impact he wanted on the GU men’s basketball program. With the players who are on scholarship having coaches on them to practice at certain times, players like Lang have to take more of an independent approach, finding time of their own to put in the work they need.
“For the walk-ons, you kind of do your own thing,” Lang said. “If you want to come to the gym and get better, you can. If you don’t, [the coaches] aren’t going to say anything. It’s your responsibility to get to the gym and get your shots up.”
With the independence came an appreciation for playing for such a prestigious program for Lang. Getting the chance to travel across the country and play against other teams was a big time realization for him, as he was able to understand how big the opportunity was playing for GU.
Lang specifically remembers the time GU played Duke University at the Maui Invitational his freshman year. Lang previously played against then Duke point guard R.J. Barrett once in high school, who his AAU team beat in the EYBL. Lang said watching players like Zion Williamson as well as his own teammates compete was special for him.
Lang said he was grateful to have been on the same team as some guys who are representing the Zags in the NBA. Being able to call guys like Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs his friends is something Lang will remember.
“It’s pretty cool to take a step back and think, ‘wow, these guys are my friends and they’re getting picked in the NBA,’” Lang said. “That’s something that not a lot of people can say.”
Over his time at GU, Lang looked to Michaelson and then-senior Jack Beach on getting adjusted to life at GU. Both being walk-ons themselves, Lang said Michaelson and Beach knew what it was like being in his position, so learning from them was great for Lang to get acclimated to the school.
Through Lang’s hard work came a big reward. Lang was put on a full scholarship for the spring semester of his sophomore year, and although it was only for a semester, he said it was still a very cool experience, as it made his week. Lang was also put on scholarship for the spring 2022 semester.
“It was pretty cool to tell my parents as well,” Lang said after he received his first semester-long scholarship. “They were proud and super happy, obviously. That was always the goal. Even though it was just for the semester, it was cool and I was very appreciative of it.”
You can see Lang today executing handshakes with his teammates and hitting his signature 3-point basket that will give everyone in The Kennel free tacos. Lang’s working on getting a handshake with everyone on the team, and at times is still getting used to some of the ones he created with his teammates.
When it comes to giving free tacos to The Kennel, Lang meant to ask GU athletics how many times he’s actually hit the shot. Lang knew, however, that he had hit the shot every year he’s been at GU. Lang hit two or three taco shots his sophomore year, and from there, made the taco shot his own signature shot.
Looking forward, Lang is looking to head off to graduate school to pursue his CBA in accounting. Whether it be at GU or at a different school, Lang plans to use his COVID-19 year and play another year of college basketball, but he said that decision will come at the end of the season. With the recent addition of freshman walk-on Joe Few, Lang hopes to be a mentor to Few the same way Beach was a mentor for him.
It could have been easy for Lang to decide to transfer to get more playing time somewhere else. But for Lang, the connections he made with GU and the experience playing for one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the country will be some of the memories that will last with him for the rest of his life.
This story was originally published for the Gonzaga Bulletin >>>> https://www.gonzagabulletin.com/sports/walking-on-to-the-future-matt-langs-journey-with-the-bulldogs/article_defaaf40-839c-11ec-a740-4b3d68e8de17.html
Vincent Saglimbeni is the Editor-in-Chief of the Gonzaga Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.
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