Out of all the exciting, rim-rocking, halfcourt shot-nailing talent in town for the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational, Pleasant Grove’s (Utah) Matthew Van Komen stands alone. He’s not extremely quick, he’s not going to weave through traffic with stout dribbling skills, and when he dunks, he’s not going to fly through the air.
He’ll just stand on his tippy toes instead. Van Komen is 7-feet-3-inches tall. Labeled the tallest freshmen basketball player in the country a year ago, he’s simply a sight to see.
Ask the Vikings’ big man when he hit his growth spurt, and he doesn’t really have an answer. “I’ve always been tall,” he said with a grin.
Van Komen was born a fairly average 19 inches tall, but grew nine between his second and third months. He cleared six feet by the time he was 11 and seven feet once he turned 13.
Despite his gift from birth, Van Komen is only starting to truly get comfortable with the game of basketball. His parents, Lindsey and Troy, both played college basketball, but they didn’t force their favorite sport onto their towering son. At least, at first.
“First, they kinda pushed me into it, but I’ve started to learn to love it,” Van Komen said.
Life as a 7-foot-3 human is nearly as strange as life on the basketball court, he says. Walking through the hallways of Pleasant Grove High School, Van Komen has a one-of-a-kind view, which he said he enjoys. He’s learned walking down the street in new places – like this week in the Coachella Valley – will often lead to endless questions of “How tall are you?” or “Can we take our picture with you?”
The sophomore’s shy, go-with-the-flow nature is happy to accommodate, he said.
But the hardest part about being so tall?
“Dating girls,” he said. “It’s hard to kiss them.”
Life on the court for Van Komen, especially against a pop-a-shot styled team like Chino Hills on Thursday night, means using that freakish height to his advantage. If he’s in the right position for a rebound, you’re not getting it unless you yank on his long arms.
The whistle will blow, and you’ll be surprised how many times Van Komen will sink the shot at the charity stripe. So far this season, he’s nearing 70 percent.
In the flow of the offense, as you’d guess, he’s not out on the wing shooting beyond the arc. In the paint, his footwork shows his youth, and he sometimes lacks the touch needed for those shots up close.
Lucky for Van Komen, as he showed midway through the third quarter against the Huskies, en route to 20 points and 20 rebounds, if he misses four times in-a-row tossing it at the rim, he can keep grabbing the rebound, high above the defenders, and eventually it’ll go in.
After the ball went in, he hustled back down the court and broke a smile for the first time all game. A boy born to play basketball but only just starting to grow into it, Van Komen is just starting to enjoy himself.