J.C. Mathis was taught the importance of a good education from a young age. His mother, Marsha, was a teacher and his father, Johnny, is well known in these parts for his views on schooling. Mathis’ dad, of course, is the legendary boys’ basketball coach at John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx.
“Doing school work wasn’t an option,” Mathis said. “In seventh grade, I remember, my first report card I got two 65s. He had a fit.”
That never happened again. Mathis went on to become an excellent student at Kennedy and a darn good basketball player, too. He had Ivy League schools recruiting him when he was a senior in 2000. He played two years at Virginia before transferring to Michigan, where he got his bachelor’s degree in sports management in 2004 and his master’s in the same subject a year later.
But Mathis, 26, has not entered the working world just yet. This coming winter will be his fifth playing professional basketball. Last season, he averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for Fundacion Adepal Alcazar of Spain’s second division. He’s also had stops in Germany and the NBA Development League.
“I do have something to fall back on,” Mathis said. “So basketball, I’m playing it really by choice. I don’t have to play it. But I still like the game. I still don’t want to get a regular 9-5 [job] yet. That’s another reason why I’m definitely still playing.”
The goal of getting to the NBA is still there, too. That’s why he’s not sure if he’ll head back to Spain or sign a contract with a team in the D-League for this coming season. He previously played for Sioux Falls in 2007-08.
“I’m not necessarily playing for money right now in my career,” Mathis said. “Once I get to 29, 30, then I’m really going to be playing for money. That’s why me going to the D-League, that’s factoring in.”
He says he still pops into Kennedy once in awhile for practices or games. Sometimes Mathis even helps out his pops on the coaching side of things. He does share his father’s basketball I.Q., after all.
“Me playing for him in high school, I loved it,” he said. “He taught me the game. He’s responsible for all my success. … The reason why I think [playing for him] worked is because he was fair. I think all the players knew that. I think that was the key.”
Mathis, along with eventual St. John’s star Willie Shaw, led Kennedy to the 2000 PSAL city championship with a victory against Lincoln. It was a culmination of a wonderful four-year career.
“It was our mission that year since we just lost in 1999 [to Cardozo],” Mathis said. “If we didn’t win a championship, we would consider it a failure.”
Failure is not a word that comes easy to the Mathis family. Johnny won his 500th game this season and guided the Knights to the Garden again. The younger Mathis still has those NBA dreams. The next step comes this winter.
“I’m still trying to get to the NBA,” he said. “That’s why I’m seriously, seriously considering the D-League, because in the D-League you get the best looks. … Plus, the players in the D-League, they’re hungry. Sometimes you can play overseas and the guys can be content or they like playing over there. In the D-League, no one is trying to stay in the D-League. People play really hard every day, every night, every practice.”
Just like his father taught him.