DeAndre Mathieu: A prayer for Tookie

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2013 - 7:45 AM

DeAndre Mathieu has been a perfect fit for coach Richard Pitino’s system. He is quick and fearless going to the basket.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON mlevison@ startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Most nights DeAndre Mathieu, usually the smallest man on the basketball court, carries the biggest burden.

Before a game, in the locker room beneath the Williams Arena court, he’ll write “33” on the side of his sneakers, down by the sole. During every national anthem, he says a prayer.

“And, right before the game starts, I beat my heart three times,” said Mathieu, who is in his first season with the Gophers. “Then I go out and get after it.”

Mathieu plays for himself, for his team. And for the best friend he ever had.

He and Phillip “Tookie” Stanford grew up together in a tough Knoxville, Tenn., neighborhood, connected like brothers. They played basketball together. They were going to get out of Knoxville together. They had plans.

But that all changed Jan. 25, 2012, when Stanford, who lost his sister and father to gun violence and his mother to cancer, took his own life.

Ever since that day Mathieu has played every game both for himself and for Stanford.

“It’s pressure, but it’s good pressure,” he said. “It makes me play as hard as I can.”

Mathieu is listed at 5-9 by the Gophers. This could be generous. But he will insist, for the record, that he is actually 5-11. Of course, he says it with a smile.

On the court? Fearless. He plays like someone who has been told he can’t. Which, of course, has happened more than once by people seeing only his height. “The size thing is always on my mind,” he said. “Even though I don’t show it. It pushes me.”

So, not surprisingly, he is drawn to other players who wouldn’t let size be a factor in their game. Mathieu grew up a huge Allen Iverson fan. He had the braids and everything.

More recently, he has become a fan of Wolves guard J.J. Barea. “I loved it when he was in Dallas, beating the Lakers,” he said. “I don’t like the Lakers.”

Mathieu’s quickness makes him perfect for coach Richard Pitino’s trapping style, but it’s his toughness you notice most. That’s what allows him to go eye-to-chest with bigger guards every night, attacking the basket, setting up his teammates.

And that toughness came out of the tough Lonsdale neighborhood where he grew up.

Story of his life

Mathieu’s tattoos tell stories. On his right arm, above a basketball is the name Tonk, below it Tinky.

Alvin “Tonk” McKenzie was his mom’s cousin, caught in a drive-by shooting while playing basketball when Mathieu was a boy. Tinky was Jamodd Mack, a friend who was shot dead while committing a break-in in 2008.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” Mathieu said. “Got caught up with the wrong group of people.”

That he can recite this so matter-of-factly is striking. This was a tough place to grow up; the kids used a “get-down” drill any time they heard gunfire while playing ball. As in, hear shots, “Get down.”

And then, on Mathieu’s other arm, a shrine: a tattoo of a basketball jersey, the number 33 with Stanford’s name. Angels wings on the side, a halo on top.

Mathieu cannot remember when he and Stanford weren’t friends.

In 1996 Stanford’s 5-year-old sister, Brittany, was killed in a drive-by shooting, shot in the back. A year later Stanford lost his father, Phillip Sr., to another shooting. Three years after that his mother, Otoyia, succumbed to leukemia, and Stanford went to live with his aunt.

And then, in 2012, Mathieu lost his friend.

“It pushes me every day,” he said. “Nothing can be worse than losing your best friend. No matter what, no matter how things are, I keep going. Because nothing is worse than I’ve already been through.”

That Mathieu can tell his story is due mainly to his mother, Tracy Johnson, who raised him, his sister and twin brothers mainly by herself.

“I had three boys, a set of twins,” she said. “I refused to let them hang out with certain people. And I didn’t let them go outside and hang out and do all that different stuff. I admit, it was sometimes kind of hard on them.”

She wouldn’t let her kids out of the house after 9 p.m., turning her home into something of an oasis. Books, schoolwork. And, it seems Stanford practically lived there with them.

One time Stanford ran away from his aunt and came to Mathieu’s house. Shortly thereafter the aunt called the home.

“She said, ‘I know he’s there,’ ” Mathieu recalled. “ ‘I’m just going to bring him some clothes. You don’t have to tell him I know he’s there.’ It was like that. If he was running away from home, he was running to my house.”

But Stanford couldn’t run away from the pain. The two boys played together through middle school before choosing separate high schools. Still, they kept in touch.

After being named to several all-state teams as a senior, Mathieu received no Division I offers and chose to walk on at Morehead State while Stanford opted for a junior college. Not long afterward Stanford, struggling, came home.

On that day in January Mathieu remembers talking with Stanford in the morning, saying he’d call him later that day. But they never talked again.

Johnson remembers trying to keep the news from her son until she could get him home. “I knew how hard it was going to be for him,” she said. “This was his best friend. He called him his brother.”

Mathieu remembers the long drive back to Knoxville when he found out.

“I think about it every day,” he said.

Road to Minnesota

So how did he get from there to Minnesota?

Mathieu returned to finish his season at Morehead. But he decided to leave when he wasn’t offered a scholarship he felt he earned. So he went to Central Arizona College, averaging 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds and being named a NJCAA first-team All-America. Frankly, he said, he wanted to get as far away as he could get.

But even in Arizona, there were problems.

Mathieu had kept texts he had exchanged with Stanford in the days preceding his death. He only recently let those go. At one point he got counseling. “The first few months, I used to dream every night he was there,” Mathieu said. “It was scary. It was eating me up.”

But with time, and with distance, Mathieu learned to cope.

After a very strong year in Arizona, sold on Pitino’s style, Mathieu moved north. And, so far, he has loved it.

“He made himself into one of the better points guards in the country,” Pitino said. “It just shows you how much character he has, how hard he worked.”

Starting at point guard, Mathieu has averaged 9.6 points, 5.6 assists, and one prayer per game.

“I just try to think about him, try to be the best I can be, try to be happy,” Mathieu said. “So, if he’s watching me, he’s happy, too.”

 

  • related content

  • Maui Invitational team capsules

    Saturday November 23, 2013

    30th Maui InvitationalLahaina Civic Center in Maui, HawaiiARKANSAS (3-0)Coach: Mike AndersonUpdate: With the loss of its two best scorers from...

  • Gophers basketball DeAndre Mathieu‚Äôs on his left arm, a tattoo of a basketball jersey, the number 33 with Stanford‚Äôs name. Angels wings on the side, a halo on top. Boyhood friend from Knoxville who took his own life after a series of tragedies.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Atlanta 4 Bottom 8th Inning
Detroit 3
Philadelphia 1 Bottom 8th Inning
Houston 4
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 1 Bottom 8th Inning
Tampa Bay 1
NY Yankees 2 Top 8th Inning
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 0 Top 2nd Inning
San Francisco 0
Los Angeles 1 Top 3rd Inning
Chicago WSox 0
San Diego 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Seattle 1
Cleveland 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Cincinnati 0
Milwaukee 0 Top 2nd Inning
LA Angels 0
Oakland 2:05 PM
Chicago Cubs
Texas 0 Top 1st Inning
Kansas City 0
Colorado 0 Top 2nd Inning
Arizona 0
NY Mets 4:05 PM
Washington
Boston 6:05 PM
Minnesota
Toronto 6:05 PM
Baltimore
Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Chicago
Dallas 9:30 PM
Portland
Calgary 6:00 PM
Boston
St. Louis 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Dallas 6:30 PM
Florida
NY Islanders 7:00 PM
Nashville
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Arizona
Montreal 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Morgan State 3:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Niagara 4:00 PM
Siena
Holy Cross 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Western Ky 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Navy 6:00 PM
Colgate
Temple 6:00 PM
East Carolina
UAB 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Lafayette
American Univ 6:00 PM
Lehigh
Wisconsin 6:00 PM
Minnesota
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Saint Peters
Arkansas 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Morehead State 6:00 PM
UT Martin
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
North Florida
Southern Ill 6:05 PM
Missouri State
Texas State 6:30 PM
Appalachian St
SC State 6:30 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Delaware State 6:30 PM
Coppin State
Middle Tennessee 6:30 PM
FIU
Texas-Arlington 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Norfolk State 6:30 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 7:00 PM
Florida A&M
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Georgia State 7:00 PM
ULM
Marshall 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Rice 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ark-Little Rock 7:15 PM
Louisiana
South Alabama 7:30 PM
Arkansas State
Alabama State 7:30 PM
Grambling St
Alabama A&M 7:30 PM
Jackson State
Sam Houston St 7:30 PM
Lamar
Central Arkansas 7:30 PM
Nicholls
Portland State 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Southern U 7:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 7:30 PM
Texas Southern
Houston Baptist 7:30 PM
TX A&M-CC
SE Louisiana 7:45 PM
New Orleans
California 8:00 PM
Arizona
Eastern Ill 8:00 PM
Belmont
Memphis 8:00 PM
Connecticut
VA Commonwealth 8:00 PM
Davidson
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Marist 8:00 PM
Quinnipiac
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Northwestern St 8:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
North Texas 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 8:00 PM
Washington
Idaho 8:00 PM
Weber State
Abilene Christian 8:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Eastern Wash 8:05 PM
Idaho State
Bradley 8:35 PM
Drake
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Long Beach State
UC Riverside 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Stanford 10:00 PM
Arizona State
Utah 10:00 PM
Washington St
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 40 2nd Half 4:24
Niagara 46
Massachusetts 46 2nd Half 5:23
Richmond 51
Virginia 40 2nd Half 7:33
Miami-Florida 49
Jacksonville St 45 2nd Half 1:49
Belmont 49
Morgan State 60 2nd Half 2:14
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 28 2nd Half 17:40
Winthrop 27
Furman 56 2nd Half 6:20
Samford 48
Oregon 38 2nd Half
Washington St 33
Indiana 20 1st Half 3:40
(23) Rutgers 30
Pepperdine 18 1st Half 5:48
Loyola Marymount 19
Auburn 0 1st Half 20:00
(18) Texas A&M 0
Morehead St 3:00 PM
Tennessee St
George Mason 3:30 PM
Saint Josephs
Western Carolina 3:30 PM
East Tenn St
Arizona 4:00 PM
UCLA
Texas State 4:00 PM
Appalachian St
TX-Arlington 4:00 PM
Georgia Southern
SC State 4:30 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Delaware State 4:30 PM
Coppin State
Portland 4:30 PM
Santa Clara
Norfolk State 4:30 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 4:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 5:00 PM
Florida A&M
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Central Arkansas 5:00 PM
Nicholls
Houston Baptist 5:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Radford
Georgia 5:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 5:00 PM
Marshall
Ark-Little Rock 5:00 PM
Louisiana
South Alabama 5:05 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 5:15 PM
ULM
Sam Houston St 5:30 PM
Lamar
SE Louisiana 5:30 PM
New Orleans
Northwestern St 5:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Alabama A&M 5:30 PM
Jackson State
Alabama State 5:30 PM
Grambling
Southern U 5:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 5:30 PM
Texas Southern
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 5:45 PM
Mercer
Abilene Christian 6:00 PM
Incarnate Word
La Salle 6:00 PM
Rhode Island
Illinois 6:00 PM
Nebraska
TX-San Antonio 6:00 PM
Rice
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
Oakland
Missouri State 6:05 PM
Indiana State
Georgia Tech 7:00 PM
(15) North Carolina
Presbyterian 7:00 PM
High Point
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
UAB
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
North Texas
Wichita State 7:00 PM
Evansville
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Northern Iowa
Bradley 7:05 PM
Drake
Vanderbilt 7:30 PM
(12) Kentucky
Colorado 8:00 PM
USC
San Francisco 8:00 PM
Pacific
FIU 8:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
Weber State 8:00 PM
Idaho
Purdue 8:25 PM
Minnesota
Cal-Irvine 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Long Beach St 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Hawaii 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UC Davis 9:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Northern Ariz 9:00 PM
Portland State
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Utah 10:30 PM
Washington
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close