Knoxville, Tennessee: The Marble City, The Heart of the Valley, and The Queen City of the Mountains; The World's Fair -- the same one famously referenced in an episode of The Simpsons -- is credited with the city's rebirth from tumultuous times before the dawn of the 1980s; and of course, the home of the Volunteers.
But under the spotlight in 2014 is a young man whose roots start in Knoxville, but continue to currently grow in an abode far north of The Volunteer State.
In The Land of 10,000 Lakes, lying between The Twin Cities is a 5-foot-9 guard by the name of DeAndre Mathieu. And although the Smoky Mountain atmosphere in Tennessee is incomparable to the frigid, near-Arctic air masses in Minnesota, Mathieu's new home in Minneapolis-St. Paul is where he's looking to cap off what has been a thrill ride of a collegiate career.
The "one and done" nature of college basketball has trickled into becoming the normality over the last decade or so. DeAndre Mathieu, meanwhile, is at his third stop since 2011. His collegiate career began at Morehead State University, after finishing as the Knoxville News Sentinel's 2011 PrepXtra Boys' Basketball Player of the Year. After averaging nearly 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in his final season at Knoxville Central High School, the transition to Morehead State was a bit more difficult than he probably had pictured.
The Knoxville native played in 29 games during his freshman year as a walk-on, but never truly got himself acclimated amongst his teammates. In the year after the Morehead State Eagles shocked the world by eliminating the Louisville Cardinals in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, head coach Donnie Tyndall's squad sputtered on their way to an 18-15 record, and Mathieu was nothing more than a role player, averaging under three points per game, and finished up the year accumulating a usage rate of just 18.8 percent of possessions.
At the conclusion of that season, Mathieu embarked west of the Mississippi River, and landed at Central Arizona College. It was there that the 5-foot-9 guard got another chance to showcase his talents, and boy did he ever. Over the course of the season, the Tennessee native scored 17.1 points, dished out 6.5 assists and collected 6.1 rebounds per game and was named a First Team All-American by the NJCAA. Not to be out done, Mathieu was also named as the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference's Player of the Year for the 2012-13 season.
On May 8, 2013, DeAndre Mathieu finally grabbed the attention of a major Division 1 school. On that day, Mathieu decided to sign his national letter of intent to head up to Minnesota to play for the Golden Gophers.
Having made two stops through his freshman and sophomore years, it was clear that Mathieu had to make some kind of impact so that he was not going to be bound to make it four schools in four years. Joining Mathieu was another newcomer to the program: head coach Richard Pitino. With lineage in his last name, Richard Pitino had the task of filling the shoes of since-departed head coach Tubby Smith.
While their first year as a collective unit did not fully prosper, it's fair to say that the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2013-14 more than met the expectations of the average fan.
Mathieu and the Golden Gophers finished the season at 25-13, rounding out their campaign with the NIT Championship after defeating SMU at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And last season, he was one of the strongest contributors for the Golden Gophers, accounting for 24.0 percent of possessions and 21.2 percent of shots attempted (323). He finished out the campaign with averages of 12 points, 4.2 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 1,145 minutes played.
The Knoxville native had the best scoring performance of his 2013 season when he dropped 27 points on Nebraska-Omaha on December 20. His top performance in Big Ten Conference play was arguably against Northwestern on February 16. Mathieu scored 18 points and shot 70.0 percent from the field on 10 field goal attempts, and came away with four rebounds and two assists as well.
The big thing for DeAndre Mathieu, as he enters his senior season, will be building off of the flashes of good play he had a year ago. The Big Ten is set to be a top-flight conference once again this coming year, especially with border rival Wisconsin looking like a Final Four candidate, so he, and the Golden Gophers, will need to tap into their potential and find efficiency.