Schneck stock is on the rise
Plymouth Raiders’ Matt Schneck talks to Herald Sport’s Glenn Bryant about growing up in Wisconsin, the USA, how a team in Switzerland keep offering him good money to join them every off-season and how he hopes to turn an interest in the stock market into a career one day.
MATT SCHNECK can easily catch you out if you switch off around him on and off a basketball court.
The Marjon Plymouth Raiders big-man is not so big in hoop terms at 6ft 8in and regularly guards guys two, three inches higher in the British Basketball League (BBL).
But what the 24-year-old American from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin lacks in length, he makes up for in hustle and heart.
In laymen's terms, if King Kong was anchoring his opponents' frontline at the Pavilions this weekend, Schneck would simply attack him like a beast right back.
"I played (American) football on defence to the age of 16 and have never had a problem with contact," said Schneck, who leads the BBL in rebounds this season, averaging 11.3 per game. "Everybody knows I have to give up some size playing at centre, but I'm not afraid to play against anyone.
"I'm a very emotional, hustle player – very gritty. That's my strength."
For someone who actively encourages confrontation on the court, Schneck is remarkably relaxed and comfortable to be around off it.
He likes English tea and is more likely to study the financial pages of his favourite newspaper or website rather than the sports section.
"I studied marketing at university and have a real interest in finance," revealed Schneck. "When I retire from basketball I'll look at going back to school to study finance.
"In my off-time I study the stock market and put a lot of my pay cheques towards dabbling in that.
"I haven't done great with it yet, but it's a hobby of mine. I hope to get into it more formally one day."
Schneck added: "As an athlete, I always try to think far ahead, because you never know when you might get an injury or something could end your playing career.
"The market for players in Europe is really tough right now in terms of getting picked up by teams."
Will the thrill of sealing the right deal on the stock market replace the buzz of basketball once his playing days are over?
"Probably not!" concedes Schneck, smiling. "I have a very competitive edge, but I think every athlete needs time away from sport at the end of their career, because you put so much into it for so long."
Schneck added: "I'm not sure if I'll coach professionally. I have a lot of respect for coaches and think it's a very difficult job – understanding all your players emotionally and then understanding Xs and Os (tactics in basketball speak) to a high level."
There was an unfair perception Raiders' coach Gavin Love would be unable to garner and then retain the respect of top BBL players when he first took over from Gary Stronach in the summer of 2010.
Schneck has never bought into that theory and can only shudder at the thought of managing – and massaging in some cases – eight different egos on a professional basketball playing roster.
"Gavin's great to work with day-in, day-out," says Schneck. "He's been a player before so he understands what we're going through, he understands the game very well and he's very easy to work with.
"The main thing I look for now in a coach is that they treat you as men. In college it's different – they still have to take care of you. But Gavin treats you as a man and has respect for you, and you respect him back."
Schneck arrived at Raiders this summer following two seasons at BBL rivals Cheshire Jets, who recruited the then rookie out of St Cloud State University, Minnesota.
Schneck, Jeremy Bell and Colin O'Reilly helped upset Raiders in the quarter-finals of the BBL play-offs in April 2011. All three are now reunited in Plymouth.
Point-guard Bell is in his second year at the Pavilions while Schneck followed small-forward O'Reilly to Raiders this off-season.
Shooting-guard Michael Ojo completes the key quartet of Raiders' 2012/13 line-up supported by role players Javarris Barnett, Drew Lasker, Jamal Williams and Liam Potter.
Rookie starting power-forward Barnett and back-up centre Potter support Schneck most closely inside.
Schneck struggles to score if a defender successfully keeps him away from the basket, looking uncomfortable trying to make short jump-shorts and at the defensive end Schneck's footwork can be found out guarding quicker players out on the perimeter.
Aside from imperfections in his game, it is hard not to like Schneck, who is a warrior and performs like one.
Yes, he has to put the ball on the floor to score and wise defenders know it, but that hasn't stopped him contributing 15.8 points per game on a league-high 61 per cent shooting this season.
On defence, particularly if he is overmatched physically against a 7ft Goliath, Schneck has a tremendous knack of fighting in front of his man and preventing the ball ever reaching inside. He also does what he's supposed to.
Big-men are recruited to do lots of things in basketball – intimidate, block shots, score, set screens and create sometimes – but they are all there to rebound the ball relentlessly and nobody does that better than Schneck.
Love said: "Every time Matt steps out on the court, you know what you're going to get. He busts his tail and he's always going against someone bigger. He does a great job."
Schneck has an excellent temperament and coolly converted 2/2, ultimately game-winning free-throws against then BBL leaders Leicester Riders at a packed and tense Pavilions on Sunday.
Raiders led by one, 83-82 with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when Schneck stood at the foul line.
Raiders fans will recall Schneck's predecessor last season, Paul Williams, similarly had two free-throws to beat Newcastle Eagles at the Pavilions in February.
Williams miscued both and Eagles, finally winning in overtime, in my opinion sealed the league title that afternoon.
Some of the most dominant big-men in world basketball today, like LA Laker Dwight Howard, can struggle and shoot 50 per cent from the foul line, but Schneck took a deep breath and sank both on Sunday, ensuring Raiders finally prevailed 86-82.
That doesn't mean Schneck suddenly is more skilful than the man he replaced on Raiders' roster in 2012/13, Williams, but it does I believe mean he's a greater competitor – and I like competitors.
Perhaps Schneck's biggest problem on this Raiders team is the lack of support he arguably receives inside from Barnett and Potter.
Barnett has developed into a big-man after starting out in college as a guard. That has its plusses and minuses. As far as Schneck is concerned, the minus is Barnett is a little lightweight in the paint.
Potter can do great things defensively when his head's screwed on, but when it's not he's anonymous offensively.
In short Schneck carries a lot of the load inside and through sheer work rate can hit foul trouble, which can spell the beginning of the end for Raiders in tight contests, such is their reliance on their starting centre.
Maybe the question really should be: how effective could Schneck be in British basketball playing alongside a dominant centre?
Meanwhile, Schneck has only good things to say about his new team-mates.
"I really like my role here," he said. "I'm able to rebound the ball and, with the level of scorers we have on this team – guys like Jeremy, Michael and Colin, and Javarris when he gets going – play to my strengths.
"I'm the guy who wants to make plays for other players. That's where I get my enjoyment. We have the chance to win something this season. That's what I'm in it for.
"It's difficult being away from home, but each year you do it, it gets a bit easier. You understand it more. But even if you're having a rough week you always have the games and the crowd to look forward to at weekends."
Schneck knew a third year at Jets, now rebranded Cheshire Phoenix after coming perilously close to folding financially this season, would have been a bad decision for his career.
"I knew I was out of Cheshire at the end of last season, the way things had gone in my last three or four months there," Schneck said.
"I didn't want to find myself in that situation again. I didn't know if I'd be back in the BBL this year.
"It was still tough to leave Cheshire, because I had a lot of friends there, but basketball-wise I knew I had to do something different."
Schneck, who has flirted with the chance to play at a higher level in a stronger league in mainland Europe, added: "I seriously thought about going, but the right opportunity wasn't there. I have security in the BBL.
"I know I can play in this league and be a top rebounder.
"I know I can contribute. You don't know what situation you're going into in Europe."
Trying out in Europe is a lottery. Former Raiders like Terrence Durham in the summer of 2005 and Cody Toppert in Christmas 2010 found that out to their cost in France and Italy respectively.
Both were sacked after only a few weeks, while other ex-Raiders like Evaldas Zabas have gone from strength to strength in first Sweden in 2011/12 and now the Czech Republic.
The crux for Schneck is: does he have the skills to play further from the basket in Europe at power-forward; or does he have the size to play more inside at centre?
"I think playing in Europe is always an option for me," said Schneck. "I have had looks from teams in Germany every summer and from Switzerland and Belgium.
"I'm not sure if it's something I want to do. It depends on the contract. I'm happy where I'm at now; Plymouth treat you well down here. We'll look forward after that."
In a revealing anecdote, Schneck added: "Every summer coming out of university I've had a team in Switzerland offer me a good deal of money to go and play there, but then pull the contract at the last minute.
"That's happened for three years now, so you never really know. Is it because I didn't sign with them early during the off-season? I'm not sure, but it hasn't worked out so far. Maybe it will in the future, maybe it won't."
Basketball is in Schneck's blood.
His grandfather, Matt Reichl, captained the Marquette University team in the 1940s and one of two younger brothers, James, 19, a 6ft 9in power-forward, currently plays elite college basketball at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
"He's filling out," said Schneck of James, who he grew up going against. "We have different skill sets. It's getting tougher to get the better of him now!"
Schneck's youngest brother, Andrew, 17, lives at home in Wisconsin, while a third sibling, sister Katie, 27, studies medicine in Tulsa.
Schneck said: "Because of my grandfather, we're big Marquette fans and sport's always been big in the family.
"I first started playing basketball at the age of four in the driveway.
"Then we moved across the street to a bigger house and bigger driveway at the age of eight, and had the hoop on the garage. I had two brothers to play with and have been playing ever since."
Schneck added: "I played (American) football and baseball up to the age of 16 and also played soccer up to 13.
"I used to play in goal at soccer and if we were up enough, I'd come out and play in midfield. After the age of 16 basketball took over and everything else stopped."