If you go to one of the UWM men’s basketball game this year, you are bound to notice sophomore forward sensation Matt Tiby. With his long brown hair flying as he runs and 6-foot-8, 230 pound frame, according to the team’s website, it’s hard not to notice Tiby.
However, he only needs his game to make him stand-out. Tiby’s game has developed tremendously since high school. Tiby’s high school senior year is when his game really took off. Tiby averaged 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game and shot 82 percent from the free-throw line. His high school coach Brad Bjorkgren contributes Tiby’s relentless rebounding to his attitude.
“Matt was a team player, but he wanted to touch that ball in the post.” Bjorkgren said. “When he didn’t get it, I think it made him a great rebounder because he wanted the ball more. He rebounded out of his area very well. Matt was taking all of [the rebounds] when he started. He has a knack for rebounding.”
However, even with the stats and a first team all-state selection, Tiby did not receive any Division 1 offers and decided to attend Kirkwood Community College. As a freshman, Tiby was second in team in scoring and rebounding with 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. He also led the team in free-throws made and attempted and shot 76.9 percent while at the charity stripe.
“Tiby came in and made an impact immediately.” Kirkwood’s coach at the time Doug Wagemester said. “For a 6-foot-8 guy, he is a full-court player who is active on both ends. He ran the floor extremely well. He was a better-than-average defender and has a high basketball IQ.”
Tiby’s has always been talkative, but it was until his time at Kirkwood that he took on the vocal leadership role.
“Back in high school, I was definitely not this player.” Tiby said. “I didn’t have this amount of energy, this style of play. Some people say it’s like a swagger to them, but it’s just who I am, who I developed myself in the junior college surrounding.”
He mentioned the fact that Kirkwood had many players who played a different style basketball than he was used too and how this helped him transform his game.
“I had a lot of people from the inner city of Chicago area.” Tiby said. “I had people from the inner city of Milwaukee area on my team. When they came, it was a different kind of basketball for me. They had more up-tempo, it was more talking, more communicating, more trying to get people going and helping people out. Sometimes in practice, just the smallest words can help someone start going and scoring points or developing their own skills for the team. That’s what really helped me build my energy.”
One teammate in particular really stuck out to Tiby and help him realize what bringing energy and what being vocal could do to his game.
“One of my co-players at Kirkwood, Eddie Denard, I don’t remember a day that he wasn’t excited to be there.” Tiby said. “I was thinking, ‘If he’s excited to be here, I’m excited to be here because this is my love; I should be excited to be here.’ Once I got to the business side in junior college and I saw all these schools recruiting me and I was developing all these skills, I was just like, ‘If I can add this to my arsenal, it could help me in the long-run.’ [Denard] really helped me with that and he just brought the energy out of me.”
However, it wasn’t all good times at Kirkwood. Tiby chose to return to Kirkwood for his sophomore year, but was suspended for the first two games for team violations. This is when another one of Tiby’s strengths was exemplified.
In a recent profile piece on Tiby in the Journal Sentinel, Tiby said he was cut off from gym access at Kirkwood and had to continue his training on his own. So, that is exactly what he did.
Even Wagemester saw this work ethic in Tiby, despite the issues.
“Matt is a worker.” Wagemester said. “Not many people work as hard as him. He is not afraid to put time in to expand his game. He is not afraid to put in time to hit the weight room. His competitive spirit and work ethic stood out to me. In the today’s day and age, sometimes it can be difficult to get kids to compete and put it on the line. I didn’t have to deal with that [in Matt’s case]. You actually had to corral that.”
During his second year at Kirkwood, Division 1 schools started to recruit Tiby. He eventually ended up receiving scholarship offers from the University of Texas San Antonio, South Dakota State University and UWM. However, his trip to UWM really stuck with Tiby.
“I felt welcome when I got here. A lot of positive vibes when I got in here.” Tiby said. “When I first came up here on my visit, I wasn’t having the best time at Kirkwood. I was kind of out of it and coming up on this trip really helped me out because it really expanded my mind and got my mind off of things back at Kirkwood.”
Tiby had to sit out his first semester at UWM after transferring and was able to redshirt to add another year of eligibility. The time off allowed Tiby continue his development as a player.
“Learning the offense was really difficult.” Tiby said. “I’m coming from a flex offense. They are running like a basic offense, the Bo Ryan offense. I’m coming from Iowa and I don’t really like [the] Wisconsin [Badgers], so I never watch Wisconsin, never even saw the offense. It was hard for me because I just wanted to get everything down and was trying to absorb everything that everyone was teaching me. It was a great stepping stone for me to have a semester here and then the summer just so I could develop myself as a player and as a student also.”
The hiatus from basketball and having to sit out and watch the Panthers during a struggling season last year has allowed Tiby plenty of time to build up energy.
“I came up here, I sat out and was just building up energy inside and was just too excited to play.” Tiby said. “Once I started to play, I’m just releasing all this tension and energy built up from, you know, could be five years ago, could be from a day ago, I’m just building up energy day by day.”
One of Tiby’s greatest assets is his energy that he brings to the court every time he plays. Talking to Tiby, his coaches, and ex-coaches one thing kept being brought up: his greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness.
“Using my energy towards the team instead of taking away from the team.” Tiby said on an improvement he strives for. “Sometimes I can get to myself and get really down and bring negative energy, not only to myself, but the team as well.”
This feeling was reverberated by his Kirkwood coach.
“Emotionally he had room for growth.” Wagemester said. “He would make himself known on the court in a communication way, but we would have to work with him on the line between players and coach communication. That is no different than any other kid. Matt always had energy, he just needed to channel it correctly. He’s on that edge and it’s a sharp one.”
In his first year at UWM, Tiby seems to have learned how to channel his energy for positive reasons and take his game to a new level. Not only has Tiby been a leader for the Panthers, but he has also added the three ball to his repertoire.
As a high school senior, Tiby attempted and missed only one three. He did not even attempt a three at Kirkwood. However, he has made 16 threes for the Panthers.
In his first year, Tiby has help lead the Panther to a 16-10 record, doubling the win total from last year already. He is also second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per contest and first on the team with 6.9 boards per game. Tiby is still also very solid at the line, shooting 75 percent on the season.
His emotional maturing, along with the constant improvement on his game, could lead Tiby to a very successful basketball career after UWM, according to his junior college coach.
“Sometimes your strongest assets can be your worst as well.” Wagemester said. “If he learns to channel [his energy], he has a long, bright future in basketball.”
It’s hard to believe that Tiby is only a sophomore this year. With his track record of always improving his game and relentless work ethic, these next two years should be exciting to watch for UWM fans.