‘It’s a dream come true:’ Graves announced as ISU head coach

Friday, April 12, 2024
New Indiana State University basketball Head Coach Matthew Graves with his family, from left, daughter Lillian, wife Susan and daughter Abigail. Graves was introduced as the Sycamores' head coach on Friday, Apr. 12.
Photo by Luke Morey.

On Friday, Apr. 12, Indiana State University officially introduced Matthew Graves as the 27th head coach of the ISU men’s basketball team.

Graves, a 1993 White River Valley alumnus, was on the staff as an associate head coach for three years under Josh Schertz, who recently accepted an offer at Saint Louis University.

Graves will take over a program that went 32-7, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season trophy and advancing to the National Invitational Tournament championship game.

Interim Athletic Director Angie Lansing introduced Graves, as Lansing said the coaching search included over 20 candidates being reviewed.

“We vetted a candidate pool of more than 20 coaches that included successful head coaches as well as highly respected Division I associate and assistant coaches,” Lansing said. “We were very fortunate to have strong interest in our program and I was especially pleased by the high-character coaches I had a chance to speak to during the process.”

Lansing said that six candidates received formal interviews, with three finalists for the position.

“What was important to us to find someone who understood and valued the history and tradition of Indiana State University,” Lansing said. “We needed someone who knows how to build a winning program in the MVC as well as someone who was confident they could build upon the momentum our 32-win season to continue on our trajectory of success. Through the interview process, it became clear that there was no better person to do this than someone who played a key role in the recent success of Indiana State basketball.”

Graves, who came to ISU in 2021, said he cried when Lansing offered the head coaching position.

“When (Lansing) brought me in her office and offered me the position as head men’s basketball coach, I couldn’t help myself, I started to cry,” Graves said. “It was just a big weight had lifted off, but at the same time I knew I was meant to be here, I knew that this was the right place, the right time and the right moment in my career. It was something I’ll never forget.”

In high school, Graves was a star basketball player for the White River Valley Wolverines, being named an Indiana All-Star in 1993.

Graves helped propel the Wolverines to three straight sectional titles, and back-to-back regional trophies as the star player scored 1,804 points across his high school career.

Graves spent nearly two decades at Butler, first as a student-athlete and then as an assistant coach.

Before his coaching days, Graves was a highly decorated student-athlete for Butler.

He was the third-leading scorer of the 1996-97 team that won the Horizon League and earned the Bulldogs their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 35 years.

The sharpshooting guard was named Butler’s Most Valuable Player a season later, leading the Bulldogs to a return trip to the NCAA Tournament while leading the Horizon League in free throw shooting and being named All-Tournament team.

He finished his playing career with 994 points.

After his playing career at Butler concluded, the Bulldogs hired Graves as coordinator of basketball operations in 2001 under Todd Lickliter and was promoted to associate head coach in 2010 by Brad Stevens.

With Graves on staff, the Bulldogs made a national tournament in each of his last eight seasons and achieved eight straight seasons with 20 or more wins. The highlight of his tenure at his alma mater came as appearances in back-to-back NCAA Tournament Championship games in 2010 and 2011.

“Why ISU? My whole life, I was in the Butler bubble,” Graves said as he played five years there before coaching for 12 years. “One of the greatest things I’ve learned, people are your greatest resource. It’s not always about the money, at the end of the day what’s the most important thing in building a sustained basketball program is the people that you surround yourself with. I learned that those are your most important resources.”

After his time at Butler, Graves was the head coach at the University of South Alabama from 2013-2018, going 65-95, but improving the team’s record every season for the first three years.

“Obviously a lot’s been made of my time there,” Graves said. “Rightfully so, but the one thing I can tell you is at South Alabama, I learned how to fail forward. I got out of my comfort zone, I took a leap of faith. Ultimately you’re judged by wins and losses and I understand that, but in those five years, the relationships I made, the mistakes I made, both good and bad, are really going to serve me better moving forward in this program.”

Graves spent a year working in the Missouri Valley Conference at Evansville in 2018-19. In his lone season with the Purple Aces, UE was second in the Valley in scoring (69.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (34.2 rebounds per game).

“My first taste of being in the Missouri Valley,” Graves said of his time at Evansville. “What a league. The Missouri Valley is in my mind, the perfect level for me to be at, the perfect conference to be at because it is one of the premier basketball conferences in America. We’ve got the best fans in the Missouri Valley right here.”

Graves served as special assistant to the head coach at Xavier University prior to Indiana State. He helped direct an offense that led the Big East in assists per game (17.57), finished second in the Big East in field goal percentage (.458) and fourth in scoring (74.8 points per game), while also assisting with a defense that ranked second in field goal defense (.413).

“Ultimately, when Josh (Schertz) called three years ago and said, ‘hey, I want you to be here with me on day one to build something special,’ it didn’t take any convincing, it didn’t take another phone call, I said, ‘when do you need me there?’” Graves said. “I’ll never forget our first conversation when Josh said, ‘one day I hope I build this program up where I can leave it for you to be the next caretaker.’ I didn’t think it would be in three short years, but it goes to show what you can do when you put your head down, you hire good people, recruit excellent young student-athletes, you have the support of the community and you see what was possible.”

With Schertz in Saint Louis now, the Graves era begins for the Sycamores.

“Now, the new era begins,” Graves said. “I’m eager to work, eager to work with the new president, soon to be a new AD, times are changing.”

With the changing times comes a new roster, as ISU currently has two players on their roster.

“This is the new norm for college basketball, whether we like it or not,” Graves said. “Whether Coach had stayed, we were going to have multiple people in the transfer portal anyway. And that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with that. The players have earned the right to see what their market value is. Our job, our staff, we’re here to find great young men, whether we can keep them one, two or three years, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to love them every day, we’re going to work hard and when it’s time that they need to go and they have opportunities to better themselves and go to a higher level, we’re going to wish them well because the more we’re doing that, we’re winning basketball games.”

Graves takes over as the head coach at Indiana State, only an hour away from where he made his mark in high school.

“It’s a dream come true,” Graves said. “You start this journey when I left Switz City in 1993 to go to Butler, you never know where the turns are going to take you. To be able to be at Butler for so long was a blessing and then the experience of living in Mobile, Ala., and then to Evansville and Xavier and then back to Terre Haute, all that journey and the experience and being able to make new connections, grow, develop and stretch myself as a coach, is really going to help prepare me better for this job than what I was heading to South Alabama nearly a decade ago.”

Graves, who played at the Hulman Center many times over his high school career, now will take the lead chair on the floor.

“I was asked earlier what my favorite moment of being at the Hulman Center was and unfortunately, it was one of the first times I was ever able to play here, we lost to a really good Terre Haute South team with Brian Evans and Steve Hart,” Graves said. “What I felt there as a player is what this community is all about. It was a packed house and Coach Schertz would even ask me in the first year, ‘what’s it like? Does this place really fill itself up?’ and I said I’ve played in a packed house, I’ve seen it before. You have that dream, that belief that you can do it, and what we were able to achieve as a program these last three years, you make that dream and belief into a reality. And now, with that reality, it’s our job to go out and continue to recruit high-level student athletes and recreate that the best we can.”

With his parents, Rick and Melonie, in attendance for the press conference, Graves will now be head coach near his family and brothers, Andrew, AJ and Mark who all played at WRV as well.

“It means the world because when I was the head coach at South Alabama, my parents made it to quite a few games, but my brothers couldn’t come down very often but now, being a short hour away from everybody, I think we’ll probably have to get a few season tickets for everyone and that’s exciting because, you’re not going to win every game,” Graves said. “Sometimes you’re going to have hard stretches and when you walk out of that locker to see friendly faces like your parents, your wife, your kids, your brothers, it brings things back into perspective and that encouragement that they bring helps me get through a lot of the tough times that you have in college athletics.”

With Graves not only playing in the Wabash Valley area, as well as coaching at Evansville, the new Sycamore head coach has a unique perspective of the area compared to other coaches.

“I ultimately think that was a separator,” Graves said. “Coach Schertz refers to it as having corporate knowledge and being a part of the program certainly you have that inside info and being able to develop the relationships I’ve made over the last three years, not just with administrators and people that work at Indiana State but also in the community at large, that’s really going to give me an advantage. I’ve already started to cultivate those relationships, now it’s just going to be on a different level.”

Graves already has his eyes set forward, looking 59 days ahead.

“June 10 will be the day that the 2024-25 Sycamores will get together for the first time to begin this journey to the next season to make everyone in here proud to be a Sycamore.” Graves said. “As the caretaker of the Indiana State men’s basketball team, you are not going to find anyone that will work harder, that will be more diligent about embracing the Wabash Valley and you’re not going to find anyone that wants to be here for the long term. I want to finish my career, hopefully in 15-plus years, as the head coach of the Indiana State Sycamores.”

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  • Congratulations Matthew, you are one of a kind, for sure!!!! Good luck to your future with the Sycamores!!

    -- Posted by purdue65lady on Fri, Apr 12, 2024, at 5:27 PM
  • Congratulations and best of luck!

    -- Posted by greenetucky on Fri, Apr 12, 2024, at 7:01 PM
  • Well deserved!

    -- Posted by lenhuf on Fri, Apr 12, 2024, at 7:07 PM
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