The wooden floor of the Spaulding Gymnasium was glossy, while Matthew Ozzella stepped onto the court for his last season as an Owl. Ozzella set his all-time career-high for most scored points in a game on Tuesday Nov. 22 in their victory against Springfield College.
Ozzella grew up in the small town of Medway, Massachusetts, which has a population of 13,000. Although he continued to play basketball in college, it didn’t start off that way. Ozzella first began playing basketball when he was in third or fourth grade with the Medway Amateur Basketball Association (MABA). “I believe that’s the first time. I did quit for a while, and then I came back around sixth grade,” Ozzella said.
In the time he took off from basketball, Ozzella started to play hockey. Ozzella’s father played hockey for North Adams State College, which is now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and he wanted his son to share that passion.
When sixth grade rolled around, Ozzella was back on the court and hasn’t looked back since. Ozzella’s mother Lisa Brady said that he has played many different sports. She mentioned that he would play a sport every season, and at some points he even played two sports at once time. “But he always played basketball. When he got to high school, he decided that basketball was going to be his one sport. He played basketball year-round at that point,” Brady said.
Head basketball coach Ryan Cain has had a watchful eye over Ozzella since he first arrived at Keene State in 2015. Cain said, “Matt is a tremendous senior; he’s a great leader.”
He continued, “He’s a lead-by-example kind of guy. He speaks up when he needs to situationally, and because he’s not always the most vocal person, when he speaks I think the guys really respond to him. On our team, he’s probably the most versatile guy and toughest to guard because he’s so strong and physical, but he complements that with some really good skills. He’s able to shoot the ball, he’s able to put the ball on the floor and go by guys, so he’s just a tremendous asset to have on the basketball court.”
Brady said that no matter where they lived, they always had a basketball hoop. “Hanging off the doors, tabletop hoops, [and] in the driveway, you name it we had that hoop! He and his brother, Michael always competed with each other in all the sports. When Matthew got to high school, he and Michael played together on the basketball court for the first time. As their Mom, that was the best. They pushed each other to be better athletes,” Brady said.
Both Cain and fellow teammate Rodney Jean-Marie agreed he can play many different roles on the team, and that it’s not all about the points you rack up. “It’s funny because I think everyone’s role kind of changes consistently game to game. Matt’s the perfect example of that…” Coach Cain said, “We’ve had some games where he’s scored three points, but he had 15 rebounds and six assists, if I remember the stats correctly. Then, last game he had 31 with 22 points at the half, so his role is really doing whatever it takes for us to win, and the good thing about Matt is he doesn’t necessarily have to score to impact the game.”
Jean-Marie said Ozzella doesn’t really have a weakness, “He’s a strong kid and he’s very athletic. On the court, he can do anything. He’s very versatile, and being able to have different roles helps the team out a lot,” Jean-Marie said.
Cain couldn’t stress Ozzella’s versatility enough. “He can do everything,” Cain said. “He can rebound it, he can dribble it up the court, make plays for us, he [can] pass it, he can shoot it, he can post it, he can shoot off the bound. He literally, in terms of being a basketball player, he has all of the different skills that you need on offense and defense.” He continued, “He’s a versatile guy on the defensive side, he can guard the biggest guy on the court, but I also think he can guard the smallest quickest guy on the court. In terms of basketball skill stuff, he doesn’t really have a glaring weakness that some players do.”
Ozzella said that his first-year and sophomore year were his low points in his career. “I wasn’t playing very well, I kept turning the ball over, I wasn’t shooting well and basically all my confidence was taken away,” he said. “It’s common for a lot of first-years and sophomores,” Ozzella said. “When you’re not playing well, you become unconfident and that’s kind of a slippery slope,” he said. Ozzella turned it around the second semester of his sophomore year and said he started playing harder. “Honestly, it’s not like I gave up, but I stopped thinking about how I wasn’t confident anymore and everything kind of fell into place.”
Being a senior in his last year, Ozzella has taken on a different type of leadership that is something he is not used to. “I think that leadership piece of it has really developed in him. Some of the guys that were juniors, now seniors, have really taken on a different level of leadership, and he is one of those guys. He competes hard every day, and I think our guys really respect the way he goes about his business on the basketball [court],” Cain said.
Athletes and professional NBA stars influence some athletes, but for Ozzella he said that his mother influenced him the most. “She’s just taught me the ways of life in general, and she’s a strong person so I just take everything from her.”
Brady said she is very proud of Ozzella’s accomplishments on and off the court. “As his mother, I have always supported him and his decisions. Of course, I was also the one who was pushing him to work harder, reminding him to get his homework done and feeding his endless appetite. But ultimately, he is the one who has done the work to get himself to where he is today. I love to watch him play basketball,” Brady said.
Being part of a collegiate athletic team can bring many life lessons. Brady said, “Most importantly, it’s a commitment.” She continued, “Being accountable to others, working together to achieve the same goal, as well as working on your own individual goals. It’s not always easy, but that’s life. You have learn to get along with many different personalities. How can that not help prepare you for the future? Matthew is very smart and extremely sensitive to those around him. I have no doubt that Matthew will be successful in anything his future brings and his basketball achievements will have definitely played a role in whatever that is.”
Cain’s closing statement about Ozzella was, “I just think Matt is a great young man. Obviously we talk a lot about the basketball stuff, but he is equally just as good of a person off the court. He’s a funny, goofy guy, he’s great to be around and he does great in the classroom too. He was academic, all conference last year and I think if he continues that this year, maybe he could even get national recognition for his academics. So it’s not just what he does on the basketball court, it’s everything else he does as well,” he said.
Shelby Iava can be contacted at Siava@kscequinox.com