Many college programs were adamant on adding him for his strong build and ability to drive through traffic. To say he plays a hard-nosed style of ball would be putting it lightly.
He was the No. 14 power forward prospect in the nation a year ago, initially receiving offers from Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Miami’s Sunshine State rival, Florida.
But after years of playing hoops in the frigid Northeast winters, Miami forward Matt Cross knew it was time to ride the so-called “Northeast to South Beach” pipeline down to The U. Prior to hanging up his jersey at Brewster Academy (N.H.), he and Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga both knew that the Beverly, Mass., native would make an almost immediate impact in Coral Gables, Fla.
“I see myself fitting in because they are in need of a true three,” Cross said. “I think that me being able to come in and play that spot and shoot the ball and (with the) mismatches that I think Miami finds and creates, is what I do best and will take that part of my game to different levels,” said Cross upon his verbal commitment to Miami last September.
A player with a similar play style to former Canes guard DJ Vasiljevic, Larrañaga expects Cross to be a threat from both a perimeter shooting and physicality standpoint.
“Matt is the definition of hard-nosed,” Larrañaga said upon Cross’ signing. “He’s an outstanding 3-point shooter, a great team-oriented player and has an extreme toughness that will allow him to compete against the best players in the ACC.”
A consensus four-star recruit in 2019, Cross will look to translate his style of play to the hardwood of the Watsco Center this winter. He will join fellow four-star recruit and top 35 recruit in Earl Timberlake, as well as Cincinnati transfer Nysier Brooks who will add size and physicality in the paint.
“One of the things we’re hoping is that our two freshmen, Earl Timberlake and Matt Cross, as well as Nysier Brooks will give us a great effort on the defensive end of the floor helping with individual defense, team defense, and rebounding,” Larrañaga said. “That will make a big difference because it will give us a little more size. I think we’ll miss DJ Vasiljevic’s shooting and Keith Stone’s defense and rebounding, but hopefully with the three additional guys it’ll more than make up for those two.” Miami was heavily reliant on Vasiljevic and senior guard Chris Lykes regarding scoring in late game situations.
Cross averaged over 18 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists per contest with Brewster Academy as a senior, capping off his high school career on a positive note while impressing his current teammates.
“Very talented freshmen,” said senior guard Kameron McGusty on the abilities of Timberlake and Cross. “From the moment they came in, they had the respect from me and all of the other guys on the team. They’re hard workers, they’re going to help us out a lot this year and I’m excited to be on the court with them.”
The freshman seeks to work his way into the Canes’ starting five during the team’s slate of non-conference games to begin the season. He has battled against Miami sophomore forward Anthony Walker, who had not practiced for four weeks due to a knee sprain, Deng Gak (injured for previous two seasons with knee injuries), and Timberlake for a starting role.
Redshirt senior Sam Waardenburg, the team’s most experienced player, was initially Miami’s projected starting power forward for this season. The veteran forward will now be sidelined after having foot surgery approximately two weeks ago after suffering the injury in practice.
Though such injury may have already been a big enough blow to Miami, Cross will arguably have a greater opportunity to prove his talents, while adjusting to the ACC competition Miami contends with each year. The Canes yet remain deep enough to accommodate for Waardenburg’s injury with more of an established inventory in the frontcourt this year.
Larrañaga mentioned at the end of October that the program has explored the possibility of playing a smaller rotation more consistently this season, given that players like Cross are 6-foot-7 or shorter and will be relied upon offensively.
Should Cross end up in the starting lineup as early as December, he will be the first freshman since former guard Lonnie Walker started in his first and only year under Larrañaga in the 2017-2018 season. The high-flying guard now plays under Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs after starting game after game at Miami alongside Chris Lykes.