Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
- UNLV forward Matt Shaw talks about how nothing else -- including his new tattoo -- seems too tough to overcome after healing from ACL surgery on his right knee
- UNLV forward Matt Shaw talks about the player he plans on being upon his return from successful ACL surgery on his right knee
Matt Shaw, junior forward
- Ht./Wt.: 6-8/240
- Age: 21
- Hometown: Los Angeles
- Family: mother, Valerie; father, Stephen; sister, Kaylen
- At Fairfax High: Averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds as a senior, helping the Lions go 24-3 and finish 16th in the USA Today Super 25 poll. Was a prep teammate of current Rebels swingman Chace Stanback.
- At UNLV: As a freshman, played in 21 of 37 games, including two of the Rebels’ three games in the NCAA tournament. Averaged 1.3 points and 4.1 minutes … last season, as a sophomore, played in all 35 games, starting seven. Averaged 6.9 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Sank 24 5-pointers. Went 0-for-6 from the field, and 6-fot-8 at the line, against Kansas in the second round.
Not too long ago, Matt Shaw's tattoo artist of choice came to his home to apply the latest piece of art to the UNLV junior forward's person.
The tall, intricate design is permanent on the left side of his ribcage. It begins large and fierce at the top, right under his upper arm, and features the Greek lettering of his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.
It tails all the way down to his hip, growing narrower until its end.
It looks nothing short of painful to have had applied. And it certainly was.
But to Shaw, who less than a year earlier went through surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee -- plus the subsequent discomfort that comes with rehab -- it wasn't unbearable.
"That's what I was thinking about the whole time," Shaw said. "I was just thinking about when I was laid up in the bed after surgery. I couldn't move, couldn't bend my leg, it was tough, but that's a lot of motivation with anything. If I could go through that ACL surgery, I could go through anything."
Anything includes a couple of drops of ink and a measly little needle.
Whether it's the tattoo experience he draws from, the surgery, the recovery or even down to the helpless feeling of struggling for a couple of weeks to get up to simply make a sandwich or change clothes, expect a different Matt Shaw on the floor this fall.
Especially in one area where the Rebels were constantly craving more production from a year ago -- the low post.
"I'm gonna primarily be spending my time in the key and work from there," Shaw said. "My sophomore year, I kind of looked at it as I did both, maybe more shooting, but I could see myself doing more work in the post this year. At the same time, when I have those opportunities (away from the basket), I'm going to take them."
Coach Lon Kruger can almost put a percentage on what he wants in terms of Shaw's offensive balance.
"I think it was probably 60-40, 65-35 jumpshooter versus low post (before the injury)," he said. "Because we need more low post scoring, we need to balance it out a little bit more."
As in, say, 50-50?
"That would probably be ideal," he responded.
In the Rebels' quest to make sure a smaller lineup isn't needed again next season, Shaw is somewhat of a forgotten man to most.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that his last game was played back on March 22, 2008, in a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas in Omaha, Neb. In that game, Shaw picked up four fouls and scored six points in 15 minutes on 0-for-6 shooting, including 0-for-4 from long range. He was 6-for-8 at the stripe that day.
Just before last summer's team trip to Australia, he hurt the aforementioned knee, and didn't return to the practice floor until late last season.
But the time off might turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Shaw. Heck, the 6-foot-8 Los Angeles native doesn't even disguise it that much, as he gushes over the differences the past year have made for him.
"It definitely makes you realize whether you really love the game or not," he said. "I also feel like by sitting there, you get a different perspective watching the game. I can sit there and watch rather than paying attention to your focuses or what coach is telling you to watch.
"You get to see the whole game, see what's going on, and I feel like my basketball IQ has gotten higher since then."
That doesn't mean that watching was always easy. During home games, Shaw was behind the Rebels’ bench in street clothes. For road games, he and the other redshirts and transfers convened at a local Buffalo Wild Wings.
Either way, the slide to a 21-11 finish was painful.
"It's tough being a redshirt," he said. "You want to say so many things, but you don't know how guys will really take that. I was a little hesitant sometimes telling people certain things. It's different. That was a different experience for me. You're a part of the team, but you just can't play."
Now, if Shaw looks more comfortable being tethered a bit more to the painted area this season, some of the credit could come to his having to imitate the upcoming opposition's biggest guy in practice late last spring -- his only opportunity to be on the floor in his third year at UNLV.
It was by default, of course, as he was the tallest of the blackshirt squad comprised of transfers and redshirts.
"It was fun," he said, citing former Utah center Luke Nevill as his favorite to imitate. "We used to have fun every day, because we would really get into our roles. We kind of took it like an acting job. It kind of helped me posting up. It helped my game as well as my teammates."
Shaw hopes he won't physically resemble the practice player of a year ago, though, as he's still in the process of trimming some of the weight he put on during his recovery.
Currently at 250 pounds, he said he hopes to be at 235 come fall -- the same weight he played at in 2007-08.
But he says no matter what weight he's ultimately at, he understands the need for production down low.
Last season, with Shaw out and expectations on Beas Hamga going unfulfilled before his transfer, consistent numbers never came from juco transfer Darris Santee and freshman Findlay Prep product Brice Massamba.
After a promising start to his first season as a Rebel, Santee ended up averaging 5.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as his minutes dwindled. Massamba provided energy, but his averages hardly popped off the page, at two points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, UNLV ranked last among all Mountain West Conference teams in rebounds allowed per game (36) and rebounding margin (-3).
Shaw's injury came following a sophomore season where he only got better as it wore on.
He averaged 6.9 points and four rebounds for the campaign as a whole.
Now he and incoming Findlay grad Carlos Lopez will be two more big bodies heavily relied upon for bolstering UNLV's post presence.
Given Shaw's last year -- surgery, tattoo and all -- it's no big deal.
"That's how I try to look at stuff, anytime things get a little hard, because that's how I feel last year was like," Shaw said. "But I've been given another chance, another opportunity, and I'm gonna take advantage of it."