Xavier big man Stainbrook doesn’t buy into ‘whole being a star thing’

It might seem as though the star of Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook grew overnight, as so many tend to do during March Madness.

Maybe the shine started back in December, when ESPN accompanied Stainbrook while he worked as an Uber driver — a job the MBA student does for extra money since he gave his scholarship to his to younger brother, sophomore forward Tim Stainbrook.

Or maybe it was during the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, when he scored 33 points with 19 rebounds in the first two rounds to help get the Musketeers to the championship game against Villanova. His 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Xavier’s second-round NCAA tournament game vs. Ole Miss certainly helped.

But maybe it’s just the fact that Stainbrook, in all his 6-foot-10, goofy, bespectacled glory, is as relatable and down to earth as any other big dude in your pickup game. Right down to the car he drives — a gold 2004 Buick Rendezvous.

"The most typical old-person car you could have," he said. "It’s big. It’s boxy. It’s very bland. Tan inside. But it fits me in it and it fits some passengers in it. It’s been kicking for, I think, 190,000 miles now, so it’s doing good."

But he’d be a pretty dominant pickup player. He’s already a pretty dominant center in the Big East.

Stainbrook plays a very modern type of game for a big man, while looking a little retro with the rec specs. Xavier’s leading scorer and rebounder has the ability to take over as the go-to offensive threat and use his body down low against opponents. He’s scored 1,464 career points and can also distribute the ball effectively.

This was the potential that others saw in him, but it couldn’t have been reached without a fair amount of growth.

There were two tumultuous, yet strong, years at Western Michigan, which was the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. Having grown up just outside of Cleveland, in Bay Village, Stainbrook decided to transfer to Xavier to go back to his home state. With the possibility of being able to play with Tim, Xavier seemed like a fit. But first, head coach Chris Mack needed to him to understand that things needed to change.

"When I sat down with Coach Mack, he said, ‘Hey, there’s a couple things you’ve got to do,’" Stainbrook said. "He said you can’t have pads all over your body, and I was known for that. ‘Cut the long hair,’ he said. ‘We’re not Gonzaga, you’ve got to cut it.’"

Mack even tried to take away Stainbrook’s signature specs.

"I said, ‘But coach, I actually have prescription goggles — I actually need them to see,’" he said.

There was weight to be lost and a temper to control. Stainbrook still lets emotions get the best of him, evidenced by the technical he received for taunting in Xavier’s game against Ole Miss.

And even after seeing success, he lost himself a little bit this season.

"I think there was a point in time where Matt lost his confidence a little bit," Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. "I said at the time, really surprising, because Matt’s done it for a long period of time. He was such a great player at Western Michigan for two years, he sat out as a transfer and was dominant in our practices, he had a terrific year last year, he was named pre-season All-Big East. So for a guy like that to really lose his confidence was surprising."

Mack points to Stainbrook’s 26-point, nine-rebound performance at Creighton in the regular season finale as the game when he found his groove again.

"For our team to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, we needed to win at Creighton, at least that’s what we thought at the time," Mack said. "And for Matt to go 26 points against a team that was crowding him, gave not only Matt, but the rest of his teammates the confidence to say, ‘Hey, Matt’s back.’"

Stainbrook’s tournament resume would also indicate the he is, in fact, back, as does his demeanor off the court.

Wednesday at the Staples Center, he was as confident holding court talking about his Uber exploits (helping a passenger ice her sprained ankle; asking another how her day was going before realizing she’d just been fired) as he was talking about the challenge of going up against Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski in Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen game.

It’s a big moment in the big man’s career, and when it’s all over, he’ll take the time to reflect on how far he’s come. Maybe when he’s working out for NBA teams, or maybe on one of his long Uber drives.

The charm of Stainbrook’s star will remain the same: As normal as a guy in your pickup game.

"When I was coming out of high school and I had one scholarship, I was a nobody," he said. "You have guy coming out now that as a freshman (in high school), they played varsity. When I was a freshman I played freshman. When I was a sophomore, I barely made J.V. When I was a junior, I was a sixth man.

"I’ve been underestimated my whole life, so I’m used to being the guy that’s back in the shadows, and I’m cool with that. I don’t really buy into that whole being a star thing."