From Gregg Popovich’s geography tests to Baskonia via Ivory Coast: Matt Costello readies for Maccabi Tel Aviv

Nov 4, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv heads on the road as they ready to take on Baskonia in Spain on Friday night (21:30 Israel time) in Euroleague Gameday 8 action. The Yellow & Blue will look to keep up their fine play of late having won four games in a row while sporting a 5-2 record.

However, the task in front of Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s charges won’t be easy despite Dusan Ivanovic’s early season struggles and a 3-4 record, especially when they will be away from home and in arguably one of the toughest locales.

One of Baskonia’s newcomers is center Matt Costello who arrived in Vitoria after having played two solid seasons with Gran Canaria. The 28-year old, Linwood, Michigan native also featured for Ivory Coast at this past summer’s AfroBasket and will look to take all of the experiences he has gained to Ivanovic’s club as he makes his first foray into the continent’s top competition.

“It’s been good and a bit of challenge as we have had some ups and downs with good and bad games. I’m learning and the Euroleague is a step up from the ACB and EuroCup as you’re playing some of the best guys. That’s why I’m here and it’s challenging. I’m trying to find a rhythm and how I fit it and I’m looking forward to being more consistent.”

Costello inked a 3-year deal with Baskonia which in today’s day and age of European hoops is a rarity and is definitely not something that he takes for granted, “I was really happy to be able to do so as I’ve had some year to year deals with uncertainties and injuries. So to nail down a semi-long term contract is really good and it gives me some security for me and my family. It feels really good.”

The 6”10, 240lb big man has worked on many aspects of his game including his shooting from long distance which is something he had the opportunity to delve into over the past two seasons in Gran Canaria. While Costello’s calling card is his stifling defense, he has also become a threat from anywhere on the court.

“Defensively I usually play the five but right now I’m playing a 4 due to some injuries on the team. But I have the ability to switch and defend the rim off the pick and roll and offensively I can pick and pop and create opportunities for others. I’m not a great one-on-one player but that lets me create other opportunities for the guys. Sometimes it works good and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Dusko Ivanovic – Photo Credit: Baskonia

There is no question that Baskonia’s coach Dusko Ivanovic is one the great characters of the game and he is also one of the most successful coach’s in the franchise’s history. With a trio of league titles in three different stints with the club, the Montenegrin bench boss will look to build on his most recent championship coming in the Corona season of 2020.

“I’ve been able to hear all the stories about coach before I signed while playing in the ACB, but they are worse than reality. He’s very demanding and wants you to do well. He sets a high standard for himself and everyone and sets expectations that you try to meet.”

This past summer Costello had the privilege to play national team basketball, but it wasn’t with the United States but with Ivory Coast in the 2021 AfroBasket.

Matt Costello – Photo Credit: FIBA

“It came together this past summer and I was glad to have had the opportunity. The General Manager reached out to me and it was a good experience. It was my first time in Africa and I visited three countries. It was great and the guys were really welcoming.”

Costello and Ivory Coast had a great run in the tournament making it all the way to the finals, but when they went up against the likes of Michael Roll and Salah Mejiri it was just too much as they fell in a close battle 78-75 at the Kigali Arena in Rwanda.

“I was upset for a while and it’s so hard to mentally deal with having to be at a medal ceremony immediately after the game. I had played very poorly that day offensively and turned over the ball with a guy in the corner when we could have tied up the game. But an hour later, I was able to look back and say we did something good and put on a smile for a picture because these memories will last for a lifetime.

Matt Costello – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Costello began making a name for himself when he had attended Bay City Western High School where he took home a bountiful of honors including the 2012 Michigan Mr. Basketball award which led him to joining coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Izzo who is undoubtedly one of the greatest college coaches of all time, was also not an easy bench boss to play under.

“A worse Dusko! I had Izzo for four years and it’s alright as they want the best out of you but their style will never change and you have to adapt to them. I see him in the summer and practice with him at Michigan State. I learned a lot but instead of going to class and then getting yelled at in college, now as a pro I am happy to get paid!”

Following four years with the Spartans, it was off to the G-League for a couple of years with Iowa and Austin. In his second campaign as a pro, Costello was called up to play with the San Antonio Spurs after having signed a two-way contract in the summer of 2017 which was surreal he explained.

Matt Costello – Photo Credit: Spurs

“It didn’t feel real the whole time. You always dream about playing on the NBA as a kid and I’m sitting on the bench and then check into the game, it’s like I’m from a small town and this is not supposed to happen. It was surreal. You try to focus on the basketball part when you’re there and remember the experience.”

Costello felt that if he had been a bit more focused on the ultimate goal when he was with the big team perhaps he could have stuck with the club.

“I kicked myself because at the time I was happy to just be there. Maybe I was young and dumb. I took it seriously with my same routine that I still have now, but mentally I wish I would have flipped over and showed that this is what I’m here for. Overseas it’s been able to help me as you have to come in with a killer mentality as there may be someone who wants to take your job and you’ve got to do everything to hold onto it. I wish I would have taken more of it seriously and would love to one day go back to play in front of family.”

Matt Costello – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Legendary coach Gregg Popovich of course left an impression on the center as he shared an anecdote from the team meetings that he was able to sit in on, “Before film sessions he would do geography tests and he would pick on the Americans because usually the foreigners were much more educated about where countries are, but not the Americans. My father always showed me maps so I knew the subject pretty well. Most guys got his questions wrong, but one time Kyle Alexander got up there and I had told him the answer and he gets it right. Pop says there is no way you knew that and he said, Matt told me. It was great.”

Following a season in Italy it was off to the Canary Islands between 2019-2021 where Costello plied his trade for ACB squad Gran Canaria which gave him the opportunity to begin to expand his style of play.

“That was the first time when I was given freedom offensively to go and score the ball. Like I said earlier, I may not be the best one on one player, but they gave me a big role and I had to adapt to that. I wasn’t used to taking as many threes and post up, but coach wanted me to be aggressive and I feel I learned that and it helped with me Ivory Coast this summer and here with Baskonia. Living there was great because we lived right across from the beach so even after a tough day you could just go out and take a walk to the beach, that was pretty good.”

Matt Costello – Photo Credit: EuroCup

Costello knows that the current stop on his journey is one that can open up further doors in his career whether it is somewhere else in the continent or perhaps back home.

“You see a lot of guys coming to Baskonia and then they take a step up after here either to the NBA or another Euroleague team. I want to build my reputation and skill set in order to continue building up my career. I’m not sure yet about my post-playing career but I have had some thoughts about coaching whether in college or pro. So I am making connections now in order to one day move seamlessly into another area.”

With a tough game against Maccabi on deck Friday night, Costello is fully aware what needs to happen in order for Baskonia to take the home victory, “That’s a bunch of guys who can play one on one. James Nunnally and Scottie Wilbekin at the top and Keenan Evans as well. Jalen Reynolds scored a lot of tough buckets and I will try to negate what they do well and get them moving along with playing in transition. They have athletes and it will be tough task and they are playing really well. We have had some rest and we will have some guys back. I’m excited.”

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