STORRS — Southington native Matt Garry and James Pettit are lifelong friends and classmates.
As engineering majors at UConn, the two spend a lot of time completing assignments and studying for exams. They also play a lot of basketball together.
That changed, to a certain degree, in late February.
“He was in our intramural team’s group chat and said he couldn’t go to one of the games,” Pettit recounted. “So, I said, ‘Why, Matt, you got something better to do?’”
Garry did. Just prior to UConn’s Feb. 21 basketball game against SMU, he was added to the Huskies roster as a walk-on.
“We are always teasing him and telling him to remember us when he’s out there playing and where he came from,” Pettit said.
There seems little chance Garry would forget. While he declined to talk for this story, Garry draws high character references from his former coaches at St. Paul as well as one of the men involved in his recruitment out of high school.
“As a senior, Matt was recruited by Coach (Jim) Calhoun at St. Joseph’s University, early and often, when Calhoun was building that program,” said St. Paul coach Steve Phelps. “I had the good fortune of speaking to Coach Calhoun on several occasions when he visited games and he just liked everything about Matt.
“That was a Hall of Famer who sees something in a kid. That was certainly very complementary.”
Steve and his son Brendan Phelps, who also coached Garry, said the decision ultimately came down to Wentworth, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, St. Joseph and UConn. When Garry decided to go to UConn, he drove to St. Joe’s to speak with Calhoun in person to let him know of his decision.
Glen Miller, who was Calhoun’s associate head coach at UConn and now an assistant at St. Joseph, said Garry’s decision to meet in person with Calhoun was nothing but classy.
“It happens more often that you find out, when (recruits) stop returning phone calls or text messages because they made a decision to go elsewhere,” Miller said. “That’s the way, I think, most prospects were mentored or taught to respond to schools years ago. It was refreshing and certainly appreciated that, not just a phone call, but he came to campus to explain his decision and thank the coaching staff.”
While Garry would have thrived for St. Joseph in Division III, Miller said, a walk-on role in Division I is a good fit, too. The Phelps agree UConn works well for Garry because of the academic aspect and the chance to play Division I basketball.
“He’s the ideal walk-on, I think, with his basketball IQ and his academics,” Miller said. “He will be a model citizen and I think he has enough passion for the game where he can certainly bring value to his role at UConn.”
While Pettit and his friends lost a big piece of their intramural team, they whole-heartedly support Garry and his new squad. They’d sit close in the student section during UConn games and bring clever signs.
One read, “Four words. Put in Matt Garry.”
Another read, “Scary Garry,” a tribute to the Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier, whose nickname is “Scary Terry.”
“He’s just such a nice kid and so driven, which has been shown throughout this (walk-on) process,” Pettit said. “I am just so happy for him and to see his hard work pay off.”
That hard work began way before he stepped on campus. Brendan Phelps said Garry would work out at a local gym at 5 a.m. before school and stay after practice for over an hour working on perfecting his craft.
At UConn, he craved the challenge.
“He knew that the odds were significant,” Phelps said. “But he wanted to push himself for the challenge to see if he could make the UConn team as a walk-on.”
Despite the odds stacked against him, Garry was able to reach that goal of donning a Husky uniform. He was aboard for the final six games of the regular season and then the two games this past week in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Memphis.
Brendan Phelps said Garry has taken nothing for granted and he truly noticed it when he saw him in a UConn uniform at the XL Center.
“(Garry) was warming up like he was going to play 40 minutes,” said Phelps. “It’s like he’s embraced the opportunity. He has embraced the position and the role. He is the consummate team guy. It was just nice to sit back and see the kid’s total body of work and the culmination of it coming together and presenting itself.”