Matthews, Eagles face Bucs for boys basketball state title

Caleb Matthews credits the development of his basketball skills to those nights when he was younger and would tag along to his older sister Emma’s basketball practice.

Matthews, now a junior at Smyrna High, would stay after practice to work on his shot.

Emma’s middle school coach at that time was Mark Tobin, who would go on to be the head coach at Padua Academy when Emma played there and he was assisted by Jason Matthews, Emma and Caleb’s father.

Caleb Matthews and Tobin will be reunited again today, but this time they’re on different sides. Tobin is coach of 19th-seeded Caravel (18-6) and Matthews is fifth seed Smyrna’s (22-2) leading scorer as the two squads will meet in the DIAA boys’ basketball state title game today at 1 p.m. at the Bob Carpenter Center.

“I know he’ll make it difficult because he knows how I play better than anyone,” Matthews said. “So it’ll be difficult but it should be pretty fun.”

Caleb Matthews of Smyrna drives the ball towards the net. (Special to the Delaware State News (Doug Curran)

“I would always go to practice with them and shoot around,” Matthews added. “Honestly he gave me a lot of gym time which helped make me the player I am today.”

“I’ve known Caleb since he was this tall,” said Tobin with a smile and holding his hand below his waist. “He’s a fantastic player and plus they have height.”

That height leads many to believe Smyrna is favored against the undersized Buccaneers.

Zubi Nwankwo, Smyrna’s 7-footer, and Jaymeir Garnett each had double-doubles in the semifinal victory over St. Georges. Garnett scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Nwankwo had 11 points and 15 rebounds.

But Caravel has reeled off upset after upset this tournament including taking down defending champion Sanford in the quarterfinals and second-seeded St. Thomas More in the semifinals.

Smyrna basketball center Azubuike Nwankwo is greet by teammates during Friday’s pep rally. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“They keep surprising me these kids,” Tobin said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see. I got to admit, I don’t mind being an underdog because it’s a great spot for me right now.”

And Smyrna knows it can’t take Caravel lightly.

“Anybody can knock anybody off on any given night,” Matthews said. “You got to go out there and play hard. There’s two pretty good teams walking into Saturday, probably the two hottest teams in the state, so it should be a fun game.”

Caravel is making its first appearance in the state finals since it won the 2008 championship.

Smyrna coach Andrew Mears speaks at Friday’s pep rally. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Smyrna meanwhile has never made a state title game before this year. The Eagles are also seeking to become the first Henlopen Conference school to win the boys’ state championship since 1997 which is a special opportunity for coach Andrew Mears, who graduated from Smyrna in 2003.

“Being from Smyrna originally obviously my heart is in it,” Mears said. “But my heart is invested more in these kids. Smyrna is on our chest but it’s all about these guys and the effort they’re putting in.”

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