Basketball has given Matteus Case a lot of firsts: his first sport, his first time traveling abroad, and his first priority. Despite his impressive personal accomplishments and national status, Case always puts his teammates first.
For Case, a 6-foot-5 freshman guard from Toronto, basketball achievements have defined both the course of his career and his worldview.
One pivotal moment in his life was when he was accepted to play on Canada’s Under-16 Boys’ National Team in 2017. He attended a two-week training camp before traveling to Argentina for the FIBA U16 Americas Championship. He competed against some of the best players from around the world and helped his team advance to the finals against Team USA.
“I got to go to a whole different country, a different continent actually, to play basketball,” Case said. “It made me feel like I was almost a professional basketball player. That was the first time I ever traveled in my life, so I really got to see basketball from a different perspective.”
Of all the sports that Case played in his childhood, he felt most connected to basketball, as it kept him both physically and mentally engaged. His goal has always been to play Division I basketball and then move onto competing professionally. He is excited to make the first part of that dream a reality at Penn.
“I know basketball can take me lots of places,” Case said. “It already has in my life. So, I’m coming to Penn looking to gain knowledge and see where it can take me in the next years of my life. I don't know any of my friends from my high school back in Canada who went to an Ivy League school, so I feel like it was a good life opportunity for me.”
During the recruitment process, coach Steve Donahue appreciated Case’s talent and competitive spirit. Case is versatile, excelling in both offensive and defensive positions. However, what Donahue was most drawn to was Case’s selflessness.
“He’s a high character kid and I've enjoyed getting to know him,” Donahue said. “He made great sacrifices on his high school team. There's a lot of examples of him taking a lesser role to help the team win: not taking as many shots and not trying to score, but being unselfish and passing the ball.”
Case’s long-time friend and former teammate, Shak Pryce, echoes these sentiments. He said that Case rises to the challenge when games get difficult and prioritizes the team’s victory.
“I never felt like Matteus cared about whether he was the star player or he had the most points,” Pryce said. “A lot of times he was the youngest on our team. Even though he was probably the biggest name on that team because of his national team status, he never used that to say, 'I deserve to have the ball the most because I'm going the furthest.' He always just felt that whatever is best for the team, that's what he's going to do.”
For Case, stepping up for this team in this way has become second nature.
“Individual success oftentimes comes from being on a good team and winning,” Case said. “Last year with my high school team, we were missing the point guard, so I moved over to the point guard position and my scoring got affected by that. But it didn't really bother me because my team was in the state final four, looking to make a state championship run. The biggest thing to me really is just winning games, and whatever position coach wants me to be in, if that’s me scoring the ball or if that’s me passing along, I do it.”
Case’s recruitment process was different than normal, as he was not able to visit campus or meet his coaches in person. Additionally, because of COVID-19, he opted to stay in Toronto for the entirety of his freshman year. However, he has been playing basketball in the United States for the last few years and feels ready to make the jump to the collegiate level.
“A lot of my friends who went from Canadian schools right to America feel the biggest difference when they get on campus is the level of competition,” Case said. "I know it's going to be different obviously because I'm going from high school to college, but I feel like I'm ready for that. I just can't wait to get out there with the team and be in the Palestra.”
For Case, being at home in Canada rather than in Philadelphia with his new teammates has been difficult. However, he maintains a positive attitude and strives to use this time to make himself a better player. He follows an intense regimen of waking up early to work out and practice, managing his school work, and ending his day with more practice.
“We try to make it similar to what it would be like if I was on campus and living a normal college life just so I get prepared for it,” Case said. “It's a lot at times, but it's just finding the balance, and I love basketball, so I don't mind doing it.”
Case has also bonded with the other four freshman Quakers on the team over the course of this year.
“It's not the same as being in person and living with them, but that will come eventually,” Case said. “Right now, it's just trying to get to know each other a little better than we already do.”
Case’s positive spirit throughout the pandemic has been appreciated by those around him, especially his coaches.
“He’s been very disciplined," Donahue said. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger, and better. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He just took it as an opportunity to make sure he is doing everything he can so that when the time does come, he's going to be prepared to play.”
While Case has been working towards his own goals of playing basketball professionally, his teammates and friends appreciate that he cares for them and remains a source of support and motivation.
“Matteus is really unselfish,” Pryce said. “He’s caring. He’s thoughtful. Even though he's in a different place in life and a different level of basketball, he’s always making sure that I'm good and working hard and that I'm doing what I need to do.”
Cases’s hard work, discipline, and talent have led him to success on the court and are reasons why his coaches have high hopes for his time playing for the Quakers. His empathy, sportsmanship, and selflessness have allowed him to forge lasting connections with his teammates and leave his mark on every team that he has been a part of.