ELIDA – A young Dakota Mathias was down in the family basement playing a friendly game of basketball.
After a sudden crash at the basket, Mathias suddenly had a tooth wiggling its way around in his mouth.
He simply walked up stairs and announced he’d lost a tooth. Then, he placed his tooth down on the counter and went back and finished his basketball game.
One who witnessed the missing tooth that day was Elida coach Denny Thompson.
“It would have killed him to be upstairs if someone was playing basketball downstairs,” Thompson said. “And that was at an early age.”
Mathias hasn’t had many days without basketball ever since.
The Purdue-bound senior is averaging 27.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on an Elida team that finished the regular season with a 19-3 record and a Western Buckeye League co-championship. He’s shooting 53 percent from the field, 48 percent on 3-pointers and 80 percent at the foul line. He’s knocked down 93 of 195 on 3-pointers.
He recently broke Reggie McAdams’ Elida boys basketball career scoring record of 1,720 points. Mathias now has 1,847 points, as he’s helped the Bulldogs to a 19-3 record and a share of the Western Buckeye League championship at 8-1.
On the weekend of Feb. 7-8, he scored 38 in an 89-69 win Ottawa-Glandorf on Friday. The next night, he broke the career record with a 42-point night in a 70-69 victory over Lima Central Catholic. He scored all 16 of his team’s fourth-quarter points, including hitting the game-winning free throw in the final seconds.
The 6-foot-5 Mathias can score from all over the court, including well behind the 3-point line and on pull-up drives to the foul line. He can also post up, drive and bang his way to the basket when the traffic is as heavy as Cable and Elida Road at Christmas time.
Thompson said a key to Mathias’ development has been his increase in strength.
“As a sophomore at the state tournament, he was obviously pretty good, but he could still get bodied up and taken out of some situations,” Thompson said. “Right now it’s very hard to do that. He’s made himself physically stronger. He’s able to take on a lot of physical play right now and still get to the basket and gets to the free-throw line.”
Mathias’ unselfish nature and passing ability elevates the play of everyone else on the floor.
“I’ve played with him since fifth grade,” Elida senior Louis Gray said. “At crunch time, you know who to look to.
“Another great thing about Dakota is he makes everyone better. … Every single time he has the ball, they know where he’s at. He draws two or three defenders. If you cut or spot up, he’ll find you. He finds his teammates all the time.”
Mathias has the athletic ability, but what’s made him the player he is has been his work ethic. And a lot of that work comes at home at the “Mathias Dome,” the family’s indoor basketball court, which is located a mere slide of the screen door off the kitchen.
He admitted he doesn’t know how many shots he puts up a day, but estimates it’s close to 700 per day.
“It’s usually before practice (where I shoot), but during the week I’ll go home after practice and shoot for an hour and a half or two hours,” Mathias said. “Before practice, I’d say I put up 300 (shots). Then when I go home I put up another 300 to 400 shots. I don’t really think about how many I shoot. It’s fun to me. I don’t think I have to do a certain amount each day, I just go in there.
“I also do a lot of ball handling every day when I go home. That takes about an hour. … I’ve done this my whole high school career.”
Thompson has seen several hard workers at Elida over the years, but added, “I don’t think anyone has ever outworked him.”
Mathias grew up around Elida basketball. He was a ball boy since the first grade and followed his brothers, Dustin, who is 25, and Bo, who is 22, on the Elida court.
“Drew (Adams) and Ryan (Lee) were the first guys I really followed,” he said. “I really liked them. Since the first or second grade, I always envisioned playing for Elida. I idolized those guys.”
Once Dakota got close to high school age, he began following in his brothers’ work ethic.
“Bo’s junior and senior years, we got really close,” Dakota said. “He always brought me to the gym, and we did ball handling all day and all night and plenty of shooting drills. I really thank him for that.
“And we used to have one-on-one tournaments, and they’d usually play two-on-one against me. They’d beat me up so much, but it was good for me.”
Two years ago, as a sophomore, Mathias was a key part of the team, with Reggie McAdams and Cory Royster, that reached the Division II state championship game.
“It was the first time Elida had been to state, and I actually have a big poster of the Schott, above my bed and I look at that before I got to bed,” Mathias said.
McAdams graduated last year and Mathias’ scoring average soared from 14 to 25 per game. That also brought plenty of double-teams and junk defenses toward him last year.
With four players in double figures this year, the gimmick defenses have been fewer. But Mathias has an innate ability to read and dissect the game at least two to three moves/passes ahead of time.
Being a 4.0 student helps in that area, but his basketball I.Q. is off the charts.
“It’s been a natural thing for me, growing up in a basketball family,” Mathias said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, but if you think out the game, you’ll be fine.”
Added Thompson, “He’s always had that ability, to understand what can happen two passes away or reading a defense. That’s something he’s always had.”
Elida opens the tournament against the St. Marys/Shawnee winner in the Division II sectional finals at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Lima Senior. Mathias’ main focus is getting his team back to the state tournament.
“I want to get back to Columbus and win it this time,” he said. “That’s been the goal since we lost my sophomore year. Defensively, is going to be the big key for us. … That’s what this team has to be able to do each and every night.”