Dakota Mathias didn’t move the recruiting needle much despite an outstanding career at Elida, Ohio. After ending the regular season of his senior year averaging 27.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists and already the school’s all-time leading scorer in the always-tough Western Buckeye League, he wasn’t a top-200 national recruit according to the 247Sports.com rankings for the class of 2014.
It didn’t deter Purdue’s Matt Painter, though. And four years later, the Boilermakers are reaping the benefits of a hidden gem from Ohio who had only seven total scholarship offers and little known interest from Ohio State. Entering Wednesday night’s game between the No. 3 Boilermakers and No. 14 Buckeyes at Purdue’s Mackey Arena, Mathias is averaging 12.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and a team-best 4.4 assists per game while shooting 46.9 percent from three-point range.
It’s mostly what Painter said he saw in the Ohioan during his recruitment.
“Well, he was one of the best high school players I’ve watched for somebody who had those physical attributes,” Painter said during a Big Ten teleconference in mid-December when asked by the Dispatch about Mathias. “He was just a dominant high school player with the way he could affect the game with his passing and his rebounding, his ability to score the ball and stretch the defense. The thing that I didn’t see was his ability to defend. He’s become a really good defender, and he works very hard at it. I did not see that.”
In 2014, Ohio State signed the state’s top overall prospect in Pickerington North’s Jae’Sean Tate and the No. 4 prospect in Garfield Heights’ David Bell. Mathias was a three-star prospect who also held offers from Akron, Boston College, Dayton, Ohio, West Virginia and Belmont.
Painter said there was some concern about Mathias’ lateral movement but that it was his only misgiving about him. But after overcoming mononucleosis as a freshman and “some other things that plagued him a little bit to start his career,” Painter said, Mathias has grown to the point where his coach has likened him to a program legend.
“He reminds me, even though they’re different players here, of Robbie Hummel and the fact that he can get 20 for you and he’s happy and he can get five for you and he’s happy,” Painter said. “He can affect the game in other ways. He guards, he passes, he’s a good teammate, he’s selfless. He’s just one of those guys that just helps you win basketball games.”
As a junior, Mathias was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive Team and also received honorable mention all-league honors. He’s increased his production in every season.
“He does everything,” ESPN college basketball analyst and former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg told The Dispatch. “He’s a willing passer, he makes open shots, he’s a great defender, he’s a ball mover, he’s got a high basketball IQ. He’s great without the ball.”
Painter said Mathias’ national recruiting perception didn’t affect his thoughts on the player.
“I just think when you’re not as athletic you don’t get ranked as high,” he said. “You sign at Purdue, you don’t get ranked as high. It’s just one of those things. He goes and signs somewhere else, they’ll rank him higher. If you actually pay attention to it, you’ll see some trends with how guys rank. They rank more on the potential and the athleticism than the production and I recruit towards production. When I’ve got in trouble is when I’ve recruited like they’ve evaluated. You’ve got to get guys that take care of the basketball, make open shots, make their free throws, coachable.”