It shouldn’t be possible for a 6-3 combo guard with an easy jumper and developing athleticism to go unnoticed on the court. And yet somehow, Chattanooga Central’s Matthew Sharpe has found a way to get buckets and rebound with anonymity, aside from instances like Tuesday night. Against East Hamilton, the usually reserved student-athlete got ahead of the defense and punched through the rim for a loud dunk and exclaimed in excitement afterward.
His big play fired up the crowd and his teammates, and for a moment the kid called “Slim” was the center of attention.
Still only a sophomore, Sharpe says he is still learning how to be the leader Chattanooga Central’s team and coaches want him to become.
“I still lack some of the characteristics of a leader, but I’m trying, and I’ll get better at it,” Sharpe says. “My coaches want me to be more vocal and to lead, so I’m trying. I’m more of a quiet person, and I’m not really the kind of guy to go into practice and yell at people. I’d rather talk to people as individuals, not in a group.”
The baskets and fun-to-watch shots draw attention, but every great player goes hard on both ends of the floor. Junior bigman DJ Sanderfer does not put up many shots, but he is an integral part of Central’s unit as the last line of defense. He wants to see Slim become stouter at the point of attack as he takes on a larger role within the team.
“Matthew is like an eight on defense, and to be a 10 he’s got to stop people from getting by him too easily,” Sanderfer says. “He recovers sometimes, and it’s really a maturity thing. I get on to him on the court (for not being loud enough).”
Per Sharpe’s teammate (and nephew) Tiawun Bell, the team already believes in the wing as a lead scorer on the floor, as Sharpe has the size and ball skills none of the other players have. Point guard Ryan Glover runs the show for the Purple Pounders, and he says Sharpe doesn’t have to demand the ball to be featured.
“I mean, he really doesn’t have to ask me to pass to him, because if he’s open, I’ll get him the ball. I know he’s going to hit the shot. I’m confident in him,” Glover says. “We all want him to come and be a leader, but everyone on the team also has to be leaders too. We all have to step up.”
Sharpe’s favorite player growing up was the late Kobe Bryant, and he has fond memories of watching the Mamba with his father. But while Bryant (for whom Sharpe wears the number 24) was famed for his dogged intensity and sometimes overbearing leadership style, Sharpe is still trying to find his voice.
Coach Kantonio Davis wants to encourage Slim to be a more vocal presence in the locker room. After having a pair of senior-laden teams his last two seasons, Davis’ 2022 team is young and impressionable, and is looking for a player to step up and take charge.
“He’s very talented and being just a sophomore, I get it. He feels like he should not be that guy at this time,” Davis says. “But I try to encourage him all the time and say that leadership doesn’t have a grade or number on it.”
Fellow sophomore Kelsean Patillo can relate to Sharpe’s plight. He may not have the talent his teammate has (he called Sharpe “the best basketball player I’ve ever met”), but like Sharpe, Patillo is also trying to transition from a wide-eyed freshman to an essential part of the Purple Pounders team.
“I think it comes with maturity. We’re both just sophomores, so I think it’s just a growing thing for me and him,” Patillo says. “We’re both really laid back, but we have to learn how to be vocal leaders at the varsity level.”
Fortunately for Sharpe, he has two and a half years to figure out how to lead a team. While he learns, the do-everything guard will continue to fill the stat sheet in the points column, on the boards, and as a floor-general.
“I play my hardest, and I rebound, score, and pass to get my teammates involved. I can hoop, and I’m up there,” Sharpe says. “I’m sure by my senior year, I’ll be yelling and be a much better leader.”
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