Dakota Mathias Looks to Gain Experience in AmeriCup Qualifying
This weekend’s games could be a springboard for the former Purdue guard, who made his NBA debut in December.
Dakota Mathias had finally achieved his dream.
Purdue’s career leader in 3-pointers went undrafted in 2018 and wound up playing overseas for a season before resurfacing in the NBA G-League. That set him up for training camp this season with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
The 6-foot-4 guard made his NBA debut on Dec. 27, 2020, when he scored eight points in seven minutes of action for the Sixers in a game at Cleveland. Mathias saw action in eight games, including two starts, before the business side of basketball hit, and the Sixers waived him on Jan. 18, 2021.
But when one hoop has a lid on it, another hoop opens up. Two days later, Mathias received a call asking if he wanted to play for USA Basketball in the FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying Tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“(It was) very exciting,” Mathias said of the call. “It’s another opportunity to play and putting on that USA uniform could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Mathias will be making his USA Basketball debut this weekend in the final two qualifying games for the 2022 AmeriCup. Currently 4-0, the U.S. faces the Bahamas (1-3) on Friday (4:30 p.m. EST) and Mexico (2-2) on Saturday (5 p.m. EST) in San Juan. (Watch on ESPN+) Host Puerto Rico is 1-3. The U.S. has already secured one of the three spots out of Group D for next year’s AmeriCup, which is part of the qualifying process for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
In addition to quickly learning the system of head coach Joe Prunty, Mathias is absorbing knowledge from NBA veterans Isaiah Thomas and Joe Johnson, two other guards on the U.S. roster, as he looks to improve his stock.
“It’s been great,” Mathias said. “They’re veterans. They’ve been around. They’ve won a lot of big games. They’ve had great careers in the NBA. To be able to pick their brains and point out some things that they see on the floor, it’s huge.”
One thing that has made Mathias stand out a bit this week is his work ethic. Following each practice, Mathias spends about 30 to 45 minutes working on his shot. His routine includes 60 makes at game speed off movement and other actions, with another 70 makes on spot-up catch-and-shoots from various locations on the floor. He said he has watched New Orleans Pelicans guard J.J. Redick as Mathias’ game profiles similarly to the former-Duke star.
“There’s just certain things, game-like action, that I like to emulate before and after practice,” Mathias said. “So, I always make sure I get those in, just something I’ve always done in the last year, year and a half. Just to feel comfortable, I like putting in that work and improve any chance you get.”
After this weekend, Mathias said he is not sure what happens next for him. It could be an NBA 10-day contract or a return to the G-League, where in 2019-20 he averaged 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists over 42 games with the Texas Legends. Mathias spent time in training camp last season with the Dallas Mavericks, the Legends parent team.
Though his time with the Sixers this season was short, it definitely was not uneventful. Due to COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing, the Sixers played one game with only seven healthy players. Four starters missed that Jan. 9 game against the Denver Nuggets and the eighth player on the active roster was unavailable due to injury (the NBA requires eight active players).
That game against the Nuggets and the ensuing matchup two days later against the Atlanta Hawks gave Mathias his first two NBA starts. In those two games, he played 80 minutes and averaged 13 points, 4.5 assists, 1.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 11-of-28 shooting.
“It was great, man,” Mathias said. “It was everything you work for — you want to play at that level. There was a lot of different issues going on due to COVID, so I ended up starting a few games and getting a lot of quality minutes. That experience is something I won’t forget and that I can build on. So, I was very excited about it, fortunate and definitely a confidence-builder.”
Before Mathias figures out his basketball future, he is focused on helping the USA finish up AmeriCup qualifying with two more wins. After growing up in Ohio, playing collegiately in Indiana and professionally in Spain before returning to the U.S., he will put on a USA Basketball jersey for the first time as a 25-year-old.
“It’s going to be a great feeling,” Mathias said. “I think we’re all pretty anxious for it. We’ve been practicing pretty hard the last couple days. To finally take on somebody else will be a good change for us. I think we’re all really excited, and we’re going to put a good product on the floor.”