Nevada point guard Sommer crossing up the competition
Matthew Sommer is turning heads with his play on the basketball court.
The junior point guard has helped lead the Nevada Tigers to a 6-2 overall record while also winning four out of five West Central Conference games. The six wins have already nearly matched Nevada's win total from a season ago.
Sommer, who leads the Tigers in scoring and assists, has added 15 pounds of muscle to his 5-foot-11 frame, bulking up to 165 pounds. Sommer has also added a new weapon to his arsenal, a crossover dribble. Aided by his long arms, Sommer's crossover has proven to be potent on the competition.
"This off-season I worked really hard on my ball-handling and getting quicker with my crossover," Sommer said. "Coming into this year I knew I was going to play point guard so I tried to focus on ball-handling and it's gotten better this year."
As a sophomore Sommer was known more for his outside shooting than finishing in the lane. This season, Sommer has taken his game to the next level as he's evolved at the point guard position. Through eight games, Sommer is averaging 22 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game.
"I'm a lot stronger and faster than I was last year," Sommer said. "This year, getting to the paint and finishing with contact seems a lit bit easier."
In his most recent outing, a home contest against Warrensburg, Sommer's crossover was unguardable. Warrensburg perimeter players Quinton Brown and Mason Devries tried their hand at guarding Sommer, with little luck. Despite being in foul trouble and somewhat frustrated through the first three quarters, Sommer delivered in the fourth quarter, finishing with a game-high 18 points.
On Dec. 15 in Kansas City against O'Hara, Sommer exploded for 38 points. The Tigers fell that night 98-74. Sommer however, announced his arrival as one of the top players in the West Central Conference. For Sommer, it's not about individual accolades as he is focused on leading the Tigers and making his teammates better.
"We're having a lot of fun this season," he said. "We've had a few big conference wins so I'm pretty happy about that. The team has been working hard in practice every day."
Sommer said he has embraced his new leadership role.
"As a junior I've tried to carry more of the scoring load as well as trying to get my assists up," he said. "We have two great senior captains in Brett Mitchell and Andy Heathman. They come in every day and lead by example, and I try to do the same."
The Tigers knocked off defending WCC champion Sedalia Smith-Cotton 56-42, Dec. 11 at Wynn Gym in Nevada. Against Smith-Cotton, Sommer and 6-foot-5 center Clay Gayman dropped in 20 points apiece. The smaller Sommer was matched up against 6-foot-3 guard Chance Johnson. As has been the case during his junior season, Sommer came out on top.
"I just go out there and play as hard as I can and let the game come to me," Sommer said. "I like getting to the hole because I feel like I can finish with contact better than some of the other guards in our conference."
Sommer said playing with a center who can distribute the ball makes everyone better.
"It's really fun playing with Clay," Sommer said. "Clay runs the floor really well. When I found out last year Clay was coming here I knew he was going to be really good because of his work ethic. He's made the game a lot easier for all of us."
Second-year Nevada head basketball coach Shaun Gray said Sommer has steadily improved at the point guard position since his freshman season. Prior to taking over as the Tigers head coach, Gray coached the freshman team. As a freshman, Sommer was raw but known for his play-making ability.
"At the freshman-level, Matt was more advanced than just about every kid he played against," Gray said. "He had an ability to do different things with the basketball, create his own shot and get to the rim. He's always had an explosive first step and been able to elevate at the rim really well. His first step and that ability to get to the rim has just gotten better."
Gray said Sommer has worked hard to become a more complete player.
"Since his freshman season he has spent a lot of time working on his jumper," Gray said. "He used to be an average perimeter shooter and now he is above- average, and shooting the ball very well from the 3-point line. And he's continuing to work on his mid-range game."
Gray said he has been impressed with Sommer's lightning-quick crossover dribble.
"If a defender gets caught leaning one way ---- his crossover is so quick that he's able to beat you and go the other way," Gray said. "It takes a very fundamentally sound and athletic defender to stay in front of Matt."
Gray said Sommer's progression from a quiet role-player as a freshman on the varsity team, to a floor-general and one of the conference's premier players, has been remarkable.
During the off-season, Gray said he asked Sommer if he preferred to have the ball in his hands and be in charge of the offense, or play off the ball ---- coming off screens, providing an opportunity to score more.
According to Gray, Sommer didn't hesitate in answering the question, as he wanted the ball in his hands leading the team.
"He wanted to be the floor- general because he knows that's when we will be at our best, when he's seeing the floor and creating for his teammates," Gray said. "His leadership has really improved over the past couple of years. And it's getting better each and every day."
In the classroom, Sommer carries a 3.8 grade point average and is a member of the NHS student council. Recently, Sommer and other members of the student council helped distribute meals to families in need.
In addition, Sommer joined the YES Club, helping to organize Red-Ribbon (drug-free) week. Sommer is also an FCA member (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).