Patience, determination pay off for Matt Mims

Victoria Berndt, Sports Reporter

Athletes often acquire leadership roles through on-court action, but Matt Mims’ path has been decidedly different.

Coming into the 2019-20 season, not many knew Mims’ influence on the South Dakota State men’s basketball program since he redshirted a year ago. But behind the scenes, Mims was preparing for his opportunity, making an impact on the team through attitude and effort in the process.

The area where Mims was most noticeable was his sideline antics. Those who made a habit of glancing at the Jackrabbit bench over the past two seasons could often see Mims supporting his teammates through dramatic celebrations.

Now, Mims’ moment seems to have arrived, and there’s little doubt that his preparation went unnoticed.

Finding his place

A redshirt freshman, Mims started leading by example off the court before earning time to lead on the court as well.

“Off the court, Matt is off the charts,” head coach Eric Henderson said. “He is a really high energy kid, everyone wants to be around him. You have fun when you’re around Matt and that’s really important for our team — I think he brings our whole team together when he does that.”

Serving as the unofficial team unifier makes Mims’ presence invaluable from the Frost Arena floor to the locker room, but the impact he’s made hasn’t stopped there. The redshirt freshman has slowly carved out his place in the Jackrabbits’ rotation as a sparkplug, bringing high-energy play on both ends of the floor.

“Earlier in the season, in the nonconference play, he wasn’t getting as much playing time as he would have liked,” redshirt sophomore Alex Arians said. “Then when conference play came around and his number was called, he was ready.”

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native has appeared in 21 games this season, averaging 12 minutes per game with at least 15 minutes in eight of the last 14 games. Against Western Illinois Jan. 4, Mims played 19 minutes and scored six points in a 91-56 blowout.

Since then, his role has only continued to grow.

“We didn’t play him early in the year and he had some DNPs (did not play), but his character and attitude carried him through that,” Henderson said. “That is not an easy deal to go through but then when his number was called, he was able to produce, he responded. When he did that, he ended up just getting more and more because he earned it.”

Mims’ work ethic derives from unselfishness — a principle Henderson emphasizes.

“Everything we do we do for each other, they really push me to be the best that I can for them,” Mims said.

Before SDSU

Striving to be the best on and off the court, Mims was a four-year academic honor roll member and 2018 academic letter winner at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids. As well as academic excellence, he earned many athletic recognitions.

“Off the court, my mom definitely pushes me the most,” Mims said. “She’s always been there for me and is always making sure I’m on top of my stuff whether it be grades or being a good person.”

In high school, Mims was too scared to disappoint his mother, Michele, after he got one bad grade, so he strove to never again get a bad grade because he was too scared, Mims said.

Currently, Mims is studying consumer affairs, which many think suits his personality.

“I’m really interested in sales and marketing,” Mims said. “Some people say I’m a people person, so I should probably work with people.”

Preparing to play

When describing Mims’ athletic ability and his personality, Alex Arians said that he is a teammate and person that you can always rely on.

“He’s always smiling,” Arians said. “He’s a funny guy who you always want to be around — just someone you look up to. In the locker room, he’s always telling jokes. … On the court, he’s always encouraging and bringing guys up. Overall, he’s a good teammate.”

Being a good teammate doesn’t just mean being a good player, but Mims has improved his skills over his redshirt season.

“He has gotten a lot stronger from last year to this year. When we first recruited him, he was just a skinny little runt and he has really done a good job in the weight room putting on strength and weight,” Henderson said. “He is a tireless worker. He spends so much time in the gym. … He’s a lot more confident with the ball and you can see he is shooting it at a very, very high level.”

But it wasn’t just Mims’ ability to come in and knock down shots that helped the young guard play his way into the rotation.

“His ability to guard the ball and guard quicker perimeter players and make open shots has helped our team make another step on the floor as well,” Henderson said.

According to Mims, he just had to get his body right and sharpen things up on the court during his redshirt season, adding that the redshirt year was good for him, but he is happy to be back playing games again.

Athletic pedigree

During Mims’ recruitment, Henderson was the assistant coach, but the current head coach played a large role in leading Mims to SDSU.

“I built a really good connection with him, so he was actually a huge part of me coming here,” Mims said. “I got to witness the fan base and everything. I just felt like I wasn’t going to get that at any other college.”

Mims’ older brother, Michael, plays basketball at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and he was a big part of Mims’ basketball journey.

“I remember my brother was big on basketball; he was older than me, so of course you always want to be like your older brother,” Mims said. “There is another player out of my city named Marcus Paige that ended up going to the University of North Carolina, and I idolized him. I just really wanted to be like those two and I just fell in love with the game because of them. They inspire me to play.”

Mims’ father, Mike, was also a collegiate athlete, playing baseball at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Although his father played, baseball wasn’t for him, and Mims stuck exclusively to hoops throughout his prep career.

With three more years of eligibility, Mims has plenty of time to continue to grow as a leader and as an athlete, and with his play in the second half of this season, expectations moving forward are high.

“I see him continuing to expand his role, continue to be one of our leaders on our team,” Henderson said. “Continuing to be a guy that just brings our team together and just playing with more confidence. His attributes will grow, you can see him getting more confident putting the ball on the floor and being more of a playmaker instead of just a shooter. He is such a hard worker; those areas are only going to get better.”