Playing in Italy ‘like a dream’ for Fox Chapel’s Erin Mathias |
U.S./World Sports

Playing in Italy ‘like a dream’ for Fox Chapel’s Erin Mathias

Doug Gulasy
Duke forward and Fox Chapel graduate Erin Mathias (center) battles for the ball against South Carolina forward Alexis Jennings (right) and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan during the first half Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Columbia, S.C.
Duke athletics
Duke's Erin Mathias goes up for a shot during a game against Presbyterian on Nov. 26, 2017.
Duke athletics
Duke's Erin Mathias blocks a shot during a game against Presbyterian on Nov. 26, 2017.
Duke athletics
Duke's Erin Mathias goes up for a shot during a game against High Point on Nov. 16, 2017.
Duke athletics
Duke's Erin Mathias puts up a shot during a game against High Point on Nov. 16, 2017.
Duke athletics
Duke's Erin Mathias goes up for a shot during a game against High Point on Nov. 16, 2017.

On a trip to Italy with the Duke women’s basketball team last summer, Erin Mathias “fell in love” with Florence, a place she could picture herself living one day.

Funny how things work.

The Fox Chapel graduate will get her chance a lot sooner than she expected after she signed a professional basketball contract with USE Scotti Empoli of Italy’s Serie A1, the country’s highest women’s basketball league. Mathias will report to Empoli — located near Florence — in September to begin her professonal basketball career.

“I’m very excited,” Mathias said. “Back before my last season at Duke ended, I was kind of thinking about my options, whether I wanted to keep playing. But literally as soon as the season ended, it hit me that that couldn’t be the end of my basketball career. I just had this urge that I wanted to keep playing. I’ve been playing my whole life. I love it so much, and to get the opportunity to play in Italy is like a dream.”

Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year in girls basketball during her senior season at Fox Chapel, Mathias said she thought “a little bit” about playing professionally one day. But while her initial musings focused on the WNBA, she began to realize the opportunity of playing overseas during her time at Duke.

“I’ve been playing the game since I was like 4, so it’s just kind of naturally in my blood,” Mathias said. “But that last year at Duke, I was just starting to really reach my potential. It was almost like I needed a fifth year to really figure out who I was as a player and be the best player I could. I’m going uphill right now. I can’t just end it there. I’ve got to keep it going.”

After the conclusion of her senior season — the 6-foot-4 Mathias had a career year, averaging 8.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game — a few agents reached out to her for representation. After mulling options from Greece and Spain, Mathias went with USE Scotti Empoli, which earned a promotion to Serie A1 after going 26-2 and winning the title in Italy’s second division last season.

“She will take the country by storm and do amazing things, and we will follow her pro career very closely,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie tweeted after Mathias signed with USE.

Not only will Mathias attempt to help the team continue its upward climb, she’ll also become its first American player — “that’s kind of neat,” she said. An aspiring fashion designer who developed an outfit for McCallie last season, Mathias also is looking forward to diving into the fashion and culture of Florence and Italy at large.

Mathias said she fell in love with Florence during Duke’s 10-day visit to Italy, when the Blue Devils visited Rome, Florence, Siena and Venice, playing three games against professional teams.

“Florence in general, I just thought, was very beautiful,” she said. “It’s a little less touristy than Rome, which I kind of like. The people are so friendly there. The food, of course, is incredible. I just really loved the culture, and I need to learn some Italian.

“I can say ciao and grazie. That’s about it.”

Mathias said she began to find her footing toward the end of her junior season at Duke before her breakout senior campaign. She grew more confidence off the court, which in turn helped her on the court.

The 6-foot-4 Mathias has the ability to play on the interior and shoot from the outside. She became more confident in her midrange game as her career at Duke progressed, and she’s working this summer to extend her range out to the 3-point line.

“I think just the biggest thing I’m going to bring is my passion, my energy and my willingness to work super hard and do whatever I can to help the team win,” she said. “I think that’s my biggest strength, is just knowing my role and playing my role consistently. But of course I want to bring my shooting abilities.”

Mathias is working with a trainer this summer in West Palm Beach, Fla., focusing on improving her ballhandling and keeping her post game consistent in addition to her shooting work.

The USE contract will run through the 2018-19 season, and Mathias plans to take advantage of her time overseas by “country hopping” around Europe and finding out about more cultures.

“Going into my senior season, I realized how cool it would be to go overseas and live in a different culture and get to travel,” she said. “I’m really excited with how the cards played out and ready for the next step.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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