Matt Stainbrook relishes role as Summer League favorite

As 6-foot-10 center Matt Stainbrook lines up a free throw, a faction of fans behind the Golden State bench serenades him with MVP chants.

The Warriors have just pushed a third-quarter lead to 16 against the New York Knicks. It’s been a struggle for either team to score. That is, until Stainbrook steps to the foul line.

Stainbrook sinks both shots; he would finish the game with 10, his Summer League-high. But to gauge performance off of crowd support, it might seem like 40.

Count head coach Luke Walton as one of his fans as well:

“Oh he’s a fan favorite for sure. He’s a coaching staff favorite too. He’s a joy to have him on the team.”

One look at Stainbrook and it’s easy to see why fans gravitate towards him. He looks nothing like the usual basketball player. He’s a thick 263 pounds, sports goggles and runs with such jerk and force that it looks like he might be bending space and time. He’s someone different to root for.

And it’s not just the fans that pull for him. Watch as his teammates jump off the bench after anything he does. Makes a shot, grabs a board, or just a random hustle play.

It’s one of the reasons Walton wanted Stainbrook on the Summer League roster:

“Matt’s a very skilled basketball player. I know what he’s capable of and he’s a team player. And he’s a great locker room guy, the guys on the team love Matt, so when he gets going a little bit it energizes the whole team.”

But don’t let all the talk about how good of a teammate he is throw you. He’s much more than just that. He’s got skills.

This is the same guy who led a 33-win Xavier team in points, 12.3 and rebounds, 6.9, was second on the team in assists at 2.4 and guided them to the Sweet Sixteen in last year’s NCAA tournament.

The adjustment to the NBA level hindered the big man at first, but Stainbrook finished Summer League averaging 5.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

Stainbrook admits the level of play took some adjustment:

“I’m trying to find my role and my niche on the team. I’m getting a lot of rebounds, I’m close to the rim but I’m not finishing them. That’s where I’m thinking like all right settle down, I know you’re with the big boys now, but it’s all right. I’m getting sped up, gather yourself, do the stuff that you did in college. Obviously you have better athletes, better players (and) stuff like that, but I’m still a good player where if I gather myself and use my body I can finish.”

He played sparingly the first couple games in Vegas because he arrived to the Warriors late after playing for the Indiana Pacers in the Orlando Summer League.

But even when he was on the bench, fans would cheer for him. Chants of, “put in Stainbrook” would break out routinely in the Thomas and Mack center.

And everyone hears them, as his teammates can’t help but smile about it, Stainbrook says:

“Yeah I joke around with some of the guys on the team that hey maybe I’ll get a minute or two when they yell put in Stainbrook. No I love it, I love fan support, it’s always fun when people are cheering for you and think you’re a good person and they want you to play. You know hopefully I’ll play because I’m a good player but it’s always fun to sort of get the crowd going.”

For some players, the constant chants might embarrass them.

But for Stainbrook, it’s something he’s proud of, and having a chance to interact with fans in any way is something he lives for:

“For me it’s not embarrassing, I enjoy it. I have fun with it. I can always interact with fans, I have a good time with that. So as long as it’s never negative, you know I can take some jabs here and there, but as long it’s not super negative then I enjoy it all.”

After all, this is the same guy who took a job as an Uber driver during his final year at Xavier.

Stainbrook graduated a year early but still had a year of athletic eligibility remaining, so he enrolled in the school’s masters program. His younger brother Tim walked on to the Xavier basketball team that year.

But Tim’s tuition was so much higher than his brother’s that Matt suggested to the coaches that Tim take his scholarship and he would be the walk-on.

So in order to pay for his tuition, Matt became an Uber driver around campus.

Something he still enjoys so much that he was still doing it recently:

“I did (it) before I came to training camp, (I) had some time off and was back home. You know what I’d say one out of every two rides that I do, people recognize who I am, (and) know who I am, so it’s always a fun ride with that.”

But he may have to put his driving career on hold, as he jokes that he’s going to be kind of busy now.

This isn’t the best time for a center to be trying to crack the NBA, as the Finals demonstrated. With the league transitioning to a smaller, court-spreading game, big men like Stainbrook need to adjust to a new style.

But Stainbrook isn’t necessarily worried, since he has a well-rounded game:

“I think maybe the one thing I have in my favor is that for a center I’m a little undersized, so I’m not a ‘seven foot center.’ But at the same time I’m also a traditional. So I sort of have that hybrid where I’m not the tallest guy but I also have the back to the basket, and I can face up and pass and all that.”

He’s also not convinced that the whole league is shifting one way, and that it is more of a team-by-team basis:

“Like you saw against the Cavs it became more of a thing where they went smaller. But you know there’s other teams where, Tim Duncan is going to play for the Spurs and he’s more face up, outside, but he’s still a big dude, so I think it varies team by team.”

But what won’t vary is the joy that Stainbrook brings to any team he’s on.

Even as the Warriors Summer League stay was ending against the Pelicans Saturday, every timeout Stainbrook was the first one out onto the court dapping up all his teammates.

As the clock ticked down a familiar “Stainbrook!” yell was heard from a fan behind the Warriors bench.

He looks up and gives them a nod, which, of course, only makes the screams louder.