By Adam McDougall, St. Thomas University Journalism
Matteo Zagar is a perfect combination of Heart, Hustle and Humility. He comes from a loving family and has a younger brother for whom he is a great role model. He puts pressure on himself to perform at a high level both in the classroom and on the court. Matteo is very coachable and a great example of what it means to be a student-athlete at RNS.
I’m originally from Oakville, Ontario, which is about 30 minutes west of Toronto. Being from Oakville really helped me get into basketball because, being really close to Toronto, I was always watching the Raptors play, so that exposed me to the sport really early on. There were also a couple of basketball clubs that, when I was growing up, really focused on youth development. I got involved with those clubs in particular when I first started playing organized basketball at the age of 12, and from there, it all just took off.
I actually played a lot of baseball and soccer growing up. From a very young age, they were my two primary sports, but even though I was in those other sports, I was always interested in basketball from watching the Raptors so much. My family and I have been watching the Raptors since the days of Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani – I’m a huge fan. My mom also played basketball at Simon Frasier University in British Columbia, and my parents are both really tall, so I guess the genes were just in me from the beginning – I’m 6’6” now. My friends also helped. A few of them played basketball growing up, so they got me into it at an early age. I played baseball for an extra year after I got into basketball, but at that time, everything in basketball was going the way I wanted it to, so I just stuck with it because it was working out great.
My favourite NBA player – the one who I try to model a little bit of my game around – is Pascal Siakam. He came from Africa, started with nothing, and now he’s worked his way all the way up the ranks. You can see that he works harder each and every year. He won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award last year, and this year he’s almost certainly set to be an All-Star. Most importantly, though, is the fact that he is humble and he hustles – those are two words I can use to describe him without a doubt.
The best thing that I bring to the team is my attitude. I always try my best to have a positive attitude. I always try to bring positive energy, and bring it out as a leader. I try to lead by example. If I’m positive, its contagious, and the positive energy just gets everyone on the court hyped. Something else that I’m super proud of is my work ethic. When I drive, I drive hard, and when I crash for rebounds, I crash hard. I work hard to score and I work hard to get rebounds, and I think that’s another way that I lead by example.
The guys on the basketball team, we have a really great bond. We can literally just chill with each other in our rooms and talk, watch TV, and play NBA 2K on whatever video game console we have, and we have a lot of fun doing that. I really like using the Memphis Grizzlies on 2K because I like using Ja Morant. He has ridiculous speed, which makes him pretty unstoppable. We go out sometimes – there are some places to eat, there’s a movie theatre, guys get haircuts, there is stuff to do. But for me, the thing that makes any experience more fun is the people you’re with and not necessarily what you’re actually doing.
The biggest disappointment I’ve experienced in basketball was this summer when I played on an AAU team called Nike Bounce. There, I got very limited minutes. Sometimes, I would sit out entire games. I was on an extremely good team, and I knew there was going to be a big learning curve to the whole experience, but sitting out – when you’re literally watching entire games – it gets to you a little bit. I felt like I was losing my love for the game. But I kept working hard, and I played more and contributed more towards the end. It really did get better as it went on. The summer really helped me to understand that it’s not always going to be sunshine – that I’m not always going to be in the spotlight. Sometimes, I’m going to have to sit out, sometimes, I won’t play, but I just have to keep working so I have the opportunity to be in that spotlight. That was the biggest disappointment for me, this summer was a hard stretch of basketball, but I worked hard and pulled through.
I definitely have my love for the game back now, though. Playing at RNS, we play every single day. We practice, we work hard and it’s just like you do it so much that you fall in love with it. I really have fallen in love with it. I don’t see it as a burden, working out every day – I look forward to working out every day. And, obviously, I look forward to playing every weekend. I’ve definitely fallen back in love with it.
My biggest accomplishment, in basketball, would be winning MVP in the North Pole Hoops Hamilton Showcase in August 2019. That was a big deal for me because the group that gave out the MVP award was connected with Division-1 coaches and, after I won, I got a couple calls from universities in the States. That’s a big part of why I’m ranked nationwide right now. That really helped me out a lot. I’m also really proud of my accomplishments in school. I’ve always been an A student. That’s something that I work hard for, that’s something I’m proud of, so that’s a big accomplishment for me.
My favourite subject in school has got to be physics. I took it last year and it was really challenging, but I loved the challenge. I like it so much because it applies the math we’ve been learning for a long time to real-life circumstances – I like that a lot. It’s also cool to learn about how physics works, because that’s really how everything on earth works. I pretty much just enjoy physics the most compared to my other subjects, and it’s also one of my best courses, so that helps. Right now, I’m planning on going to university and taking engineering, which is a physics-related course. But, obviously, I have two more years here at RNS, so things could change.
One of the coolest basketball stories I have actually stems from one of my coaches. I played on his team for three years and now he’s a personal trainer, but he is extremely close with NBA player Thon Maker and his brothers, so I’ve talked and even worked out with those guys multiple times. I’ve had a couple great experiences with them, and they’ve had some high words for me in the past. They probably wouldn’t remember who I am anymore, but just being able to see how they worked, and even train with them was a big deal for me.
My biggest supporters are my family members. My parents, my brother, and my coaches. Every morning, my Mom sends me a text saying something like “be focused today, you got it.” Every single morning she sends me a text, just something positive to keep me going. I talk to my parents and my brother every day. But at the same time, everyone here – my coaches and my teammates – we all support each other so it’s easy to stay focused and inspired. Those are the main groups of people I rely on.
RNS is helping me achieve my goals because there are always 50 prep athletes here and all of us want to play post secondary, pretty much all of us want to play Division-1 sports, so it’s really easy to focus in on what’s important when everyone around you has the same goals and aspirations. At my old school, I probably would have been the only one to play post-secondary basketball, so it is easier to feel like you’re in an environment to work hard when everyone around you has the same goals. That’s probably why RNS is best for me, people are focused academically and athletically on being the best they can be. We all have a common mindset.