Centralia star Shaw expected to sign with SIU today

By Gus Bode

The walls of his room are adorned with his basketball awards and posters and cutouts of Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony.

He plays for America’s winningest team in a historic gym that has seen multiple NBA talents pass through its doors.

He works out religiously, lifting weights, jumping rope, running the stairs, dribbling and shooting four or five days a week.

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His life is ensconced in basketball, and, after today, he’ll be one step closer to achieving a longtime dream.

Centralia forward Matt Shaw, who verbally committed to SIU last month, is expected to make it official today by signing a national letter of intent to play for head coach Matt Painter’s Saluki program.

The chiseled 6-foot-6 lifelong Centralia resident told his dad when he was in elementary school he would be a Division I basketball player.

But before he can become SIU’s newest local legend, ala Kent Williams, Shaw has another goal to achieve in this basketball crazy burg of more than 14,000 about 60 miles north of Carbondale and surrounded by little more than dozens of miles of rolling hills.

He’s focused on going to the state tournament for the second time in his high school career.

Attending a high school game is just about the only thing to do on a weekend night, and hundreds of rabid fans pack into Centralia High School’s historic Trout Gym.

Though the Orphans have the usual complement of varsity sports, basketball is the only one that matters.

“We’ve got football, we’ve got baseball but basketball’s the one thing everybody wants to be,” Matt’s father, Roger, said. “Every kid wants to be an Orphan.”

Growing up, Matt dueled it out on the court with older brother Josh, now a starter at Division II Missouri-Rolla.

“Me and him played a lot, so I guess he influenced me pretty much. When we were little he’d definitely win some, but things have changed,” Shaw said, adding he can beat Josh now.

While Roger had to tell his eldest son, Josh, to practice more, he had no such problems with Matt.

During Matt’s freshman year, his team was upset in the state playoffs by Mount Vernon, Centralia’s strongest rival.

“He said, ‘I’m gonna work every day.’ He said ‘I’m not gonna go through this feeling again,'” Roger said, adding he had to force Matt to spend some time relaxing after that.

All that hard work made Shaw one of the most sought-after prospects for mid-major coaches. During the summer Amateur Athletic Union season, he was fielding calls from up to 10 coaches a day.

While playing AAU ball for the St. Louis Eagles, Shaw traveled around the country and played numerous high-major recruits, but the one that most impressed him was Shaun Livingston, who recently committed to Duke.

Shaw thinks that high-caliber of summer basketball will help him adjust to the Missouri Valley Conference, where he’ll most likely be a power forward for SIU.

“It just kind of prepares you for college ball,” Shaw said. “It’s just a more physical type of game, kind of a higher-tempo style.”

After being exposed to college coaches almost non-stop during the summer, Shaw chose his suitor.

On Oct. 8, Shaw committed to SIU, choosing the Salukis over Saint Louis. He also visited Stanford a few weeks before making his decision but eventually ruled out the Cardinal program.

“I just felt that they were the best fit for me,” Shaw said of SIU. “I felt like they’d probably get the most out of me out of any of the other colleges that were recruiting me. I just think they’re gonna work me the hardest and probably get me to the highest potential I have.”

Once he gets to Carbondale, he wants to win a conference championship, and he’s leaning toward an industrial engineering major.

Before he calls Carbondale his temporary home, Shaw will bring his Orphans to town in hopes of defeating the home team. Centralia will face Carbondale Community High School Feb. 13. It will be a showdown of future MVC players, as Carbondale guard Justin Dentmon has already committed to continue his career at Illinois State.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Shaw said of that game. “Hopefully we can pull out a win. Last year they beat us every time, so I’m definitely looking for a little revenge. I’m looking forward to coming down there to play. They got a good team, so it will be a good game.”

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