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Coach Weir shares close bond with Mathis, one of country’s top shooters

January 7, 2019

The story of Paul Weir’s relationship with Anthony Mathis has come to define the last two years of Lobo basketball.

It’s also something Weir says he’ll never forget.

In the moments after Saturday’s historical demolition of No. 6 Nevada in The Pit, the two shared an embrace in the mid-ramp area outside the team’s locker room. Weir was still soaking wet from a postgame water shower from his players; Mathis still beaming from a career-high 27 points dropped on the undefeated Wolf Pack.

The two had a brief exchange, inaudible to everyone except them. Mathis was asked what was said.

“He loves me,” Mathis said. “And I love him. I love everybody who’s a part of the program.”

The two forged an unlikely bond in the days after Weir was hired as UNM’s coach in April 2017. In short order, Weir had jettisoned the program’s entire crop of incoming freshmen and given releases to two players considered to be the cornerstone of the future, guards Damien Jefferson and Jalen Harris.

Seen as little more than a forgotten bench warmer in previous coach Craig Neal’s system, Mathis seemed an obvious pick to join the transfer chorus line.

But that’s where it all changed. In Mathis, Weir saw a player who was never really able to call UNM home, a player who didn’t necessarily have a lot of options when looking to go elsewhere.

“I was new and I didn’t really know anybody, either,” Weir said. “We both really just decided to kind of take a chance on each other and thankfully it’s really worked out [for] Anthony and his career.”

Mathis played in just 10 games his sophomore season, logging a mere 64 minutes and scoring just 29 points. In just the last two games this season he has played 71 minutes and scored 44 points. It’s safe to say the Lobos wouldn’t be the team they are now without the 6-foot-3 native of West Linn, Ore.

He has appeared in all 47 games Weir has coached at UNM, starting 20 of them. He averaged 12.7 points last year, draining a school record 66 3-pointers in conference play as a junior and is averaging a team-best 16.4 points this year. He is one of the country’s top long-range shooters and is hovering around 90 percent from the free throw line.

It’s one of the most remarkable developmental stories in the history of UNM basketball, something similar to former power forward Cameron Bairstow. The two trudged through relative obscurity before closing out their Lobo careers as invaluable components of the team.

Beloved by the fans and respected by his opponents, Mathis is finally able to soak in the passion of being a star Lobo playing in The Pit. Every time he lets one of his quick-release 3-balls into the air, the crowd lets out a “Threeeee,” as it sails toward the rim.

When they go in — and he’s converting a staggering 44 percent of them — it leads to the adrenaline-pumping response only a few players ever experience.

“That’s what I live for,” Mathis said. “That’s why I shoot all the shots I do, why everybody puts so much time in the gym. I mean, that’s truly what you play the game for; for the fans, those moments where they’re going wild and you’re just so excited. I mean, it’s just super hard to explain but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Now 8-6 and in the midst of a three-game winning streak after Saturday’s rout of Nevada, Mathis is front and center for a team that finds itself in a three-way tie for the Mountain West lead heading into this week.

“We all believe in each other, we truly do,” Mathis said. “A lot of teams can’t say they truly believe in one another, and I truly believe in every single player we have in that locker room.”

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