Favorite athlete: Lebron James
Favorite team: Philadelphia 76ers
Favorite memory competing in sports: The night game we wore t-shirts for my mom “All in for Phyllis”
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: A teammate ran out on the court with warm-up still on and didn’t notice or understand what people were saying to him.
Music on iPod: Rap and R&B
Future plans: Go to college and major in psychology
Words to live by: “Nothing is given in life.”
Goal before turning 30: Graduate college and find a job I am passionate about.
One thing people don’t know about me: I used to be extremely overweight.
By Mary Jane Souder
When Matt Cartwright talks about his high school basketball experience, there are no 'what ifs.' Although there certainly could have been.
His, however, is a story with a happy ending, but unbeknownst to the Souderton senior, his basketball career almost ended before it began.
“His freshman year he was probably the last point guard on our depth chart,” said Souderton coach Tim Brown, who was the junior varsity coach back then. “We actually thought of cutting him between his freshman and sophomore year.”
The Indians’ senior co-captain readily admits that his life would be decidedly different if he had been cut.
“At the beginning of the year, we were talking about how far I’ve come, and I realized, ‘Wow, I almost got cut,’” he said. “I never even thought about it until the beginning of this year, and it did shock me when I found out.
“If I had to guess, I don’t think I would have stayed with basketball. I think there’s a chance I would have tried another sport. I don’t even know.”
But Cartwright wasn’t cut, and his success story is a tribute to a relentless work ethic that impressed Brown from the outset.
“He was always the open gym workhorse,” the Indians’ first-year coach said. “He was always the guy that was at everything, and it paid off for him.
“He got so much better. Even his sophomore year, he was still pretty low on the depth chart, but he had a great summer that year and ended up getting some varsity minutes as a junior. His senior year I couldn’t take him off the court. His four-year progression was pretty ridiculous.”
Cartwright was a key piece of the building blocks Brown is putting in place to create a new culture at Souderton.
“He led by example, and vocally, he took on the role of being another coach and making sure everyone was serious and focused,” the Indians’ coach said. “His leadership was definitely the biggest thing he brought, and he’s a well-liked kid.
“To know what he was going through every day and the way he would come in and work and how serious he was about it – you could tell he really used basketball as his outlet, and he put all his energy and passion into it every day.”
Cartwright has never lost his focus while ‘going through’ some tough stuff. In many ways, he is a study in courage, but that shouldn’t come as surprise. His mother, Phyllis Cartwright, has been a powerful role model whose influence on her only son – the youngest of three siblings – has been profound.
Matt lost his father, Ralph, to brain cancer when he was two years old.
“I don’t remember anything about it,” he said. “My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer the same year I lost my father.
“She went into remission for 11 years, but it came back. It wasn’t that intense until a year-and-a-half ago when she started chemo. It came back in her bones and liver.”
Cartwright’s college choices are based on their proximity to home.
“I’m waiting to see a little bit of what happens with my mom because that’s a big factor,” Matt said. “All the schools I’m looking at are fairly close.
“I wanted to get away for college, but I also want to be able to come home overnight and just be around.”
And this is when you find out all you ever need to know about Matt Cartwright.
“(My mother) is the person that made me who I am today,” he said. “She’s the person who made me have the work ethic and all that stuff.
“It’s all her, it came from her. Just watching her. She was a single parent raising three kids, battling cancer, beating cancer once and supporting a family. Still making us have a really great childhood.
“I can’t complain at all. I wouldn’t even know that I was missing something without having a father. It really was like that. I don’t now how else to say it. I feel like having one mom I was never missing anything. She just made everything great. It was her going to work everyday. I saw her just grinding away at life, and I guess I just picked that up from her.”
As a youngster growing up, Cartwright – in addition to basketball – played soccer, baseball and football.
“I faded away from soccer,” he said. “I played baseball and football a few years, but then I realized getting closer to eighth grade that I needed to focus on one sport to play in high school.”
Basketball was Cartwright’s undeniable passion.
“I just loved the game because it was a mixture of the other sports, in my opinion,” he said. “In baseball, there’s not much contact, and football is really rough, but basketball was really good in between.
“It was very competitive growing up, and I watched it a lot too.”
As an eighth grader at St. Mary’s School in Schwenksville, Cartwright began attending open gyms at the high school, and the decision to attend Souderton was a relatively easy one.
“I would actually leave school 10 minutes early, and my mom would pick me up and I would go to the open gym in Souderton,” he said. “I have two older sisters – one went to Lansdale Catholic and one went to Souderton.
“If I went to Catholic school, it would have been PJP (Pope John Paul), and that was really far away. I always played the sports through SHYBA, so I already knew kids going into high school, so I figured I would try and make the transition to go to Souderton.
“At that point, it was a brand new school, and it just seemed like it was a great option. I don’t regret it at all. I think it was the greatest choice I’ve made so far in my life. Me and my mom still talk about it.”
As a freshman on the junior varsity, Cartwright never saw the court.
“We did not have a freshman team, so that really diminished my chances of playing pretty much,” he said. “There were so many guys on the team.
“We even had three juniors playing jayvee, so I did not see the court, and I knew that was going to be my role going into freshman year. Come sophomore year, I barely played then too. I was probably the seventh man off the bench.”
It was after his sophomore year that Cartwright made a renewed commitment to work at improving his game.
“I think I was 16 turning 17 and I started maturing,” he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about getting cut because I didn’t realize how close I was, but I was like, ‘I want to play next year,’ so that offseason I really got committed, and I think the maturing of my body helped and also my mindset.
“The open gyms that summer – I think the only ones I missed were for vacation. My mom made sure I got to all of them, and I wanted to get to all of them and the weight room also.”
As a junior, Cartwright was the back-up point guard for the varsity, and this year, the senior co-captain was a fixture on the court as the Indians’ floor general.
“Matt just accepted his skills and worked with them,” Brown said. “He knew he wasn’t the fastest kid or the quickest kid, but he got stronger.
“He learned how to use his weight a little bit, he learned how to play with kids on his hip. He found a way to play with his own body. He really improved a lot and got point guard skills. He didn’t have much ball handling skills, and he really improved himself. That’s more of him playing with his own body. He still struggles to dribble with his left hand, but he learned how to make it work and just kind of took the Andre Miller approach up the court and backed them down, kept turning from side to side, so he made it work.”
Ask Cartwright what being part of the basketball team has meant, and it’s clear it was life changing.
“The main thing I think basketball has given me is just confidence,” he said. “I think I found something in myself that summer of just being able to show how hard I could actually work.
“It was very hard going into a new school with 2,100 kids and just being another kid and trying to find friends, but basketball helped me out with that completely. That’s how I found my friends – and my best friend Mike (Bealer). That says a lot.
“It helped me find friends, and it was just the confidence – being able to talk to people. It really did change my life.”
Bealer –co-captain with Cartwright – had a front row seat to Cartwright’s journey.
“He had the mindset that he was going to push everything aside and focus as much as he could on getting himself better and doing the little things he needed to do,” Bealer said. “His junior year his minutes increased a ton because he knew his role. He knew what he had to come in and do. That’s what made him stand out over other people. He took that to his advantage.”
Although basketball will not be part of his immediate future, Cartwright will draw on his experiences on and off the court. He has been accepted at East Stroudsburg and is waiting to hear back from West Chester. He’s also considering Penn State branch campuses.
He has not decided on a major but is leaning toward psychology or education.
“I could really see myself being something like a guidance counselor or even a teacher,” Cartwright said. “With my background, I’ve been through a lot at 18, and I feel like I could relate to a lot of people and just talk to kids – high school kids.
“I could really see myself doing that and enjoying it. I want to figure out what my passion is as soon as possible and pursue that. I hear a lot of people who get jobs they don’t love. I want to find something I’d love to do for my life.”
Those who know Cartwright best are betting he will succeed wherever life may lead him.
“If you were a kid on my team and had no idea about Matt’s situation, Matt’s background or what he’s gone through in life, you would never know because he comes in and makes sure he does what he has to do,” Bealer said. “He doesn’t let it affect him when he plays. I think the basketball court helps him not to think about other things, which is great for him.
“He’s just a really hardworking kid. He has a straight face on, doesn’t let anything bother him, and he just tries to stay focused and does his thing.”