LEWISTON — Luke Matarazzo’s coach describes his senior captain’s defensive makeup as part pit bull, part illusionist.

The characterization brings up a jarring image of a cross between a bald rapper and a Las Vegas headliner. But the Bates guard has a full head of hair and doesn’t dream of seeing his name in lights on the strip.

Matarazzo is content to cause chaos on his own 94-foot stage, where he refuses to give up a single inch from baseline to baseline and regularly gets under opponents’ skin.

“My entire life my coaches were always telling me I’m a small guy, so I really had to play hard at both ends of the floor, especially on defense,” said Matarazzo, a 5-foot-9 co-captain from Shelton, Conn. “Even in middle school and high school, I was always picking my guy up full court trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible. I know that as a point guard when somebody’s doing that to you, it’s very tough to run your offense.”

“He is what I call a pit bull on defense,” Bates coach Jon Furbush said. “He’s so good at pressuring without giving too much pressure. He gives the ball-handler the illusion that he’s getting over-pressured, but Luke doesn’t get beat. He’ll beat you to the spot.”

The pressure results in turnovers, of course, but the true measure of Matarazzo’s impact on the game usually comes in crunch time.

“The first 10 minutes of the game, you might not see the wear-and-tear on the opposing point guard. But 30 minutes in, they’re exhausted, and mentally they’ll start making some mistakes,” Furbush said.

Matarazzo and the Bobcats open the season with the Bates Tip-off Round Robin  Friday night when they  host UMA at 7 p.m. at Alumni Gymnasium. UMA meets University of Maine at Farmington at 2 p.m. on Saturday, then the Bobcats and Beavers square off at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

The Bobcats go into the season bolstered by an infusion of some much-needed height from their freshman class. But the veteran backcourt consisting of Matarazzo, junior co-captain Graham Safford and sophomore Mike Boornazian will be the key to improving upon last year’s 10-15 season.

Matarazzo, whose work ethic, competitiveness and ability to communicate with his teammates earned him a captaincy for the second year in a row, said becoming a factor in the NESCAC starts with positive thinking.

“We need to lift up our standard and our level of play every day and expect to get better every day, expect to win every single game,” he said.

The rest of the Bobcats would do well to follow Matarazzo’s example.

“He’s just a tireless worker,” said Furbush, a Bates alum entering his sixth year as head coach. “He’s like that in all aspects of his life.”

For basketball, that has often meant tailoring his game to the team’s needs from year to year.

He was a 1,000-point scorer in  high school. But handling the point guard duties at Bates, as a freshman backup, then sophomore starter, led him to subvert his own scoring for teammates.

“He was trying to facilitate so much that he didn’t become as much of a scorer, and I told him, ‘I want you to be more of a ‘points’ guard as opposed to a point guard,'” Furbush said.

The emergence of Safford, the former Hampden Academy star, allowed Furbush to move Matarazzo to off-guard last year.

“It was like the light bulb went off. He was shooting more. He was being more aggressive,” Furbush said.

“It was a bit of an adjustment,” Matarazzo said. “Freshman and sophomore years, I was more of a distributor. I tried to be aggressive when I needed to be. Junior year, I moved off the ball where I needed to be a real catch-and-shoot threat.”

He went from leading the team in assists as a sophomore to the third-leading scorer as a junior with 10.8 points per game.

Furbush said he expects Matarazzo to take at least 15 shots per game this season, which would be a 50 percent increase over last year.

With that in mind, Matarazzo has watched a lot of film to learn to make better decisions with the ball and be more efficient every time he touches the ball.

He’s also improved his mid-range jump shot and frequented the weight room so he can get his shot off when he takes it to the hoop.

Matarazzo is confident he can strike the right balance between being a scorer while still keeping his teammates involved. The familiarity he has with his fellow guards, as well as co-captain Sean Cunningham and veteran contributors Derek Murphy and Billy Selmon, boosts his comfort level.

“This is one of the closest groups of guys that I’ve played with in my four years,” Matarazzo said. “We all have trust in each other. We all pretty much know what each other’s strengths are and we definitely feed off of that.”

A sociology major with plans to work in commercial real estate after graduation, Matarazzo is ready to soak in his final season, however it may unfold.

“It’s my senior year. I’m just trying to take it day by day and enjoy it while I can,” he said.


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