Loyal Cougars

Gone But Not Forgotten: Reflecting on the legacy of Matt Carlino

Steve Pierce says goodbye to Matt Carlino by reflecting on his career at BYU, his sudden exit, and what it all means for his legacy.

This is an article that I hoped I’d never have to write — but I can’t say I’m surprised that I find myself in front of my keyboard right now.

After BYU’s season ended with a disappointing but none too shocking loss to Oregon in the NCAA tournament, I floated the possibility on Twitter that we may have just seen Matt Carlino play his last game in a BYU uniform. I didn’t know at the time whether that scenario would come to pass. Indeed, I fervently hoped that it would not. But I had heard enough rumblings from people in the junior point guard’s orbit that I felt there was at least some cause for concern.

That inkling of concern came to fruition on Tuesday, of course, when BYU announced that Carlino would graduate from the school in June and transfer elsewhere to play out his final season of eligibility. As a noted Carlino advocate with a colossal soft spot for the kid, not to mention as the (self-appointed) president of his (fictional) fan club, I was gutted for obvious reasons. But as a rabid, lifelong fan of Cougar hoops, I was equally disappointed — that we were losing a player who had fought so hard for his team over the past few years, that we were losing one of the hearts of next year’s senior-heavy squad, and most of all, that we were losing one of our boys.

The emotional response was tremendous but short-lived. After all, I had essentially been steeling myself for this moment over the past couple months. The writing was on the wall. I knew Matt probably had enough credits to graduate. His relationship with the coaching staff had understandably grown rockier as the season progressed. I knew this was a possibility. So while I’m still disappointed to see him move on, my mind quickly turned from sorrow to pondering. Because Carlino’s exit creates a lot of lingering questions for BYU fans — about Matt’s value (or lack thereof), his future, and his lasting legacy in Provo.

I figured I couldn’t be the only one grappling with these newly raised questions — and even the briefest sampling of social media and message board conversations seems to validate that supposition — so I thought it might be worthwhile to think through a few of the bigger issues here.

1. How should BYU fans feel about Carlino’s time in Provo?

Matt Carlino arrived in Provo with high expectations — perhaps a little too high. As a high-profile scoring point guard entering the program on the heels of BYU’s best season in 30 years, the UCLA transfer was quickly anointed as “the next Jimmer,” who would build upon the program’s recent success and immediately fill the sizable shoes of (arguably) the best Cougar player in history. Obviously, Carlino was not that guy — nor was that a reasonable expectation to foist on him.

So who was Matt if he wasn’t the next Jimmer? Well, he was a dang good basketball player. I’ll get more into his individual statistical profile in a moment, but let’s first consider his other accomplishments. In his less than three years in the program, Carlino (along with Brandon Davies, Tyler Haws, Noah Hartsock and Kyle Collinsworth) helped to shepherd BYU through what could have otherwise been a very treacherous beginning to the post-Jimmer era.

Let’s be clear: The level of success achieved from 2009-2011 was not sustainable for a program like BYU in the long-term. More often than not, mid-major programs that experience that kind of episodic excellence — especially when its tied to a single, transcendent player — tend to follow that glorious peak by slogging through a pretty lengthy valley. This isn’t Kentucky or Duke — BYU can’t just reload and make another run to the Sweet 16. It’s not institutionally feasible.

So while the Cougars’ fortunes may have dipped during Carlino’s tenure (and while some fans may find that notion unacceptable), he and his compatriots actually did quite well considering the significant challenges they faced. In the last three seasons, BYU has received bids to two NCAA tournaments (winning one history-making game in the process) and made a Carlino-propelled run to the semifinals of the NIT. And if that’s your valley? If those are your “down” years? If that’s how you respond to losing the greatest player to ever pick up a ball at your school? Well, that’s pretty impressive — an accomplishment that Matt, his teammates and their fans should feel proud of.

2. How does Carlino’s career stack up against Cougars who came before?

There’s no doubt that Carlino will go down as one of (if not the most) polarizing players in BYU history. If you cheered for the Cougars at any point in the last three years, chances were you either loved him or you hated him — and there wasn’t a whole lot of room in between those two options. And while I applaud all that emotion (after all, isn’t that what makes sports fun?), it often obfuscated the story being told by the numbers.

That story? Matt Carlino is one of the most productive players to ever put on a BYU jersey. Full stop.

But wait, one might say. What about his questionable shot selection? He certainly did struggle with that at times. Hold on, chimes in another. How can he be one of our best players ever if he got benched on his own team? Another excellent question, with so many possible answers that I can’t even begin to get into them all here. But here’s what I can get into: hard numbers.

Consider the following table:













Pretty good, right? During his time at BYU, Carlino succeeded in stuffing the stat sheet in the categories most applicable to his position, winding up in the top 10 in two of them. As he leaves the school right now, he will go down as one of the all-time best scorers, passers and ball-thieves that Provo has ever seen — just based on these raw numbers. That, in and of itself, is an incredibly impressive feat.

But wait! There’s more!

As impressive as those raw numbers are, they’re even more impressive when you consider them in context. Carlino achieved those very lofty totals in just two and a half seasons. (If you recall, he sat out the first part of the 2011-2012 campaign due to transfer rules and obviously has yet to play his senior season.) Put simply, he has installed himself among the greatest Cougars in history — in only a fraction of the time.

To provide some additional context to Carlino’s excellent on-court performance (and maybe just twist the knife of despair a little bit further), let’s take a look at where we could have reasonably expected him to end up on the all-time lists, if he had chosen to play out his senior year in Provo:













I’m not just pulling these numbers out of thin air. I’ve performed some pretty simple calculations here — extrapolating his career per-game averages in each category out over the course of 35 additional games (BYU has played at least 35 games in each of the last five seasons), then adding that result to his current career total to produce a conservative estimate of Carlino’s expected production with another year in Dave Rose’s system.

The results are staggering. If Matt had chosen to return for his final season, he likely would have finished his career at BYU as the school’s most prolific set-up man (by a wide margin) and second most deadly steal artist, while sliding safely in amongst the top 15 scorers in Cougar history — and he very likely would have been the school record-holder for 3-pointers to boot. That’s not just being among elite company — that’s being elite company. That’s a potentially legendary legacy.

Of course, Carlino isn’t coming back for his senior season. We’ll never get a chance to see if he could have cemented his place as one of the best, most statistically accomplished players in BYU history. That was his choice, and it’s a disappointing one. But that shouldn’t take away from what Matt did accomplish in his truncated time here — and that is still quite a lot. Being amongst the school leaders in several key statistical categories after only two-years-and-change of gameplay? That’s something to hang your hat on, and then some.

3. Where is Carlino headed next — and how should BYU fans feel about him when he gets there?

This is where the true unknowns come into play. With barely 24 hours having passed since Carlino informed the coaching staff of his intention to transfer, the process is still very young and fluid. But even in that short timespan, sources close to the situation have told me that Matt has already been contacted with several offers from quality programs in search of an experienced point guard for next year. Given his accomplishments, as outlined in the previous two sections, this should not come as much of a surprise.

Matt Carlino will land somewhere next season — and probably at a fairly prominent program. As someone who harbors hopes of playing professional basketball (likely overseas) following the conclusion of his collegiate career, it would behoove him to find a situation where he can play big minutes and get as much exposure to scouts and team executives as possible. And he should attract plenty of interest. As CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander wrote on Tuesday, Carlino will be “one of the most coveted transfers on the market.”

So how should we, as BYU fans, handle this new development? What should we do when one of our own is (hypothetically) suiting up for Kansas or Colorado or some other “power conference” program next November? These are tough questions — and when I have tough questions, I always turn to one source of wisdom: Seinfeld.

Much too often, as Seinfeld shrewdly points out, we fans find ourselves rooting for little more than laundry. We love the guy who happens to be wearing our jersey today and we hate him if he happens to be wearing a different color shirt tomorrow. And while I do recognize that those jerseys and colors (particularly when it comes to BYU) possess some semblance of greater importance and meaning for a number of entirely legitimate reasons, I do not believe that should affect our capacity to recognize, respect and root for the human being — no matter which jersey he’s currently wearing.

This is especially applicable in the case of Matt Carlino. He chose to leave BYU today — and this is incredibly disappointing news to many of us. That’s OK. In fact, it’s completely normal and totally understandable. But it’s also important to remember that he hasn’t simply evaporated. His name is forever etched in our record books. His accomplishments will never disappear from our histories. The many great memories he gave us should never fade.

Matt is still the same great kid who is universally beloved by everyone he meets. He’s still the same fun-loving guy we celebrated when he lip-synched to Skee-Lo in a goofy music video. He’s still the same player we all cheered for when he would get hot and start dropping a relentless onslaught of long-distance bombs on unsuspecting foes in the Marriott Center. He’s still the same player, the same person, the same human being — he’ll just be wearing a different jersey for awhile.

For once, I’d love for us to prove Seinfeld wrong, even on the relatively small scale that is our little BYU community. Let’s go against the grain of American sports. Let’s root for the success of someone who we came to know and love (or maybe even love-hate), who has simply moved on to the next phase of their life. Let’s pull for a kid who left every single piece of himself on the floor for 96 games — for his teammates, for his university, for us. Let’s wish him nothing but the best of luck wherever he lands, and leave it at that.

Because no matter what color jersey Matt Carlino wears next, he’ll always be one of our boys.


  1. Belgie

    April 2, 2014 at 9:28 am

    From the 10,000 foot view that I get as a fan, Carlino seems like a great guy, and has represented BYU well. It’s clear that he’s got ambitions and has always been a little restless, so the transfer is not really a surprise. And, his inconsistency was sometimes maddening. But, he’s a great ball player who helped carry BYU for the last 3 years. He’ll be missed, for sure. I honestly hope he has a fantastic senior season wherever he goes, and he gets to make a career of basketball somewhere.

  2. Lance

    April 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

    From a strictly basketball standpoint, Matt will be greatly missed. Every team needs that unfiltered player who can always create their own shot. For BYU the last two years, that player was Matt Carlino. On top of that, Matt pushed the ball better than anyone and took significant pressure off Tyler Haws. Unless magic happens, Tyler’s job just got a whole lot tougher next year. Matt had a good run. He will be missed.

  3. Sean

    April 2, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Perhaps the hardest part about Matt Carlino’s transition to BYU basketball was that he came in and promptly made himself a bit of a victim of his own success. In his first game as the Cougars’ backup point guard, Carlino scored 18 points on 4 of 8 shooting and turned the ball over four times — despite working hard to re-work his reputation as a pure passing point man perfectly patented to providing power from the top of the court.

    Matt Carlino was a very good point guard, but he started his BYU career in front of a sellout crowd in a narrow loss to Baylor looking like a shooting guard — indeed, a bit like the next apparition of The Jimmer (who was not a true point guard, despite his occasional assist numbers). Carlino had the potential to be a pass-first point guard, but played into the role that BYU needed at the time: get to the basket, put the ball in the net in any way possible, and let it happen.

    As Steve points out, that Carlino could have been one of the best assist-givers in BYU history should outrank his scoring accomplishments. Instead, he’ll leave as a volume shooter who provided several extra wins per year, a memorable NIT tourney run (that he helped catalyst) and a tendency to be seen as a “volume shooter.”

    Farewell, Matt Carlino. You will be missed — even if we hardly knew thee.

  4. Wes

    April 3, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Nice article. I agree that Carlino is a good player and potentially a game-changer… but a grain of salt here. This reminds me of the business that loses money on each product sold, but tells themselves “that’s OK, we’ll make it up on volume!” You mentioned shot selection. Here’s some more numbers: Carlino’s field goal percentage over the 2 and 1/2 years he donned the clothing that I root for:

    FG %
    2011-12 40.1%
    2012-13 40.8%
    2013-14 38.5%

    3PT %
    2011-12 33.1%
    2012-13 33.5%
    2013-14 33.9%

    2011-12 1.53
    2012-13 1.74
    2013-14 2.16

    I’m not making the case that the team is better without Carlino – particularly given question marks about who will be the future at point (Chatman? Halford? Winder? Collinsworth – who we will desperately need underneath?) And to his credit, I feel that Carlino made strides every year in becoming a better player – the numbers show that, especially in Assists/TOs. But the fact still is that Carlino wasn’t an efficient player while at BYU. Even this last year, when he was kept on somewhat of a leash, his 2.16 assist to turnover ratio wouldn’t get him anywhere near the top 50 NCAA point guards:


    Past seasons were much worse. And quite simply put, his field goal and three point percentage numbers – for a shooter, were abysmal. I actually think he has a sweet stroke – but you could have the sweetest voice in the world, and no one would care if you just sang in all the wrong places. I will miss his athleticism, his underrated defense, and especially his steals. But an elite player at BYU? Hardly.

  5. Adam

    April 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Great article. Thanks, Steve.

  6. Bryan Taylor

    April 7, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Those potential assist numbers is more of an indictment on the type of point guards Carlino would ultimately pass or rival their numbers. Carlino would be seen as a very average player at most top 25 programs but here at BYU is seen as a top player. BYU needs to recruit better talent.

  7. Justin Whiting

    April 8, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    It will be hard to replace him. The team just seemed more exciting with Matt on the floor. I will miss. And totally rooting for Matt next year (unless he goes to Utah or Gonzaga.

  8. Gary Lund

    April 8, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I say bunk to the Jimmer hype. Sounds nice on the ears but I know of no one who expected him to be Jimmer or even Jimmer like. Hersay bunk and false argument. With the hype the journalist published did we expect him to play well? Yes. Did we hope for more? Yes! Sometimes Matty lit it up and we loved it. Sometimes we were pulling our hair out saying, “what is he doing?” All in all though, great kid, played with heart earned us some great Ws and lead us to some ugly Ls.

    I don’t know why he left. I am just disappointed he did not take the challenges of earning the starting spot and locking in more scholarship as a doable do. Sad that he is pulling up chocks and looking for greener pastures. I thought his final year would have been great.