Matt Bonds has had a bittersweet career at Saint Michael’s. He walked into a program full of potential, as he and a new coaching regime started their careers together with consecutive winning seasons. Upon the graduation of the starting team in 2015, SMC has gone into somewhat of a rebuilding mode all while Bonds has become one of the premier big men in the country.
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Bonds burst on to the scene as a freshman, establishing himself as a force in the paint. As a freshman reserve, he scored 9.9 points a contest while ripping down 7.6 rebounds per game en route to Northeast-10 All-Rookie Team honors.
“I thought I could come out and perform with just my talents and control the game and ultimately lead my team to a win,” Bonds said of what he learned as a freshman. “But I learned from those guys the mental things. Teamwork, being unselfish, leadership. That sometimes you aren’t always going to be the focal point of a play or a game. They helped me understand the game and how it should be played at this level.”
As such, he has transitioned from a role player to a role model for a young team that sees a combination of six freshman and sophomores logging quite a few minutes per game this season.
“Of course I wanted to win, but I had to set an example for these guys,” Bonds said. “I had to show them about hard work and doing it the right way. Our record hasn’t been as great, but I know I can have an effect on them in the long run because of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
“Whenever I’m on the floor I’m giving more than 200 percent. I want people watching me to know I’m putting my best foot forward for my team. Leading by actions is a big part of leadership.”
Bonds hasn’t been alone on his journey from bench player to team captain. Joining him every step of the way have been his parents, Michael and Toni. Their son has played in 97 games as a Purple Knight, and they have been to every one of them, never thinking twice about their nine-hour trek from Maryland to Vermont.
“We had been up to the area before because we ski,” Toni Bonds — Matt’s mother — said. “When he visited the campus he loved it. His only question was would we still come if he’d come all the way up to Vermont. My husband said it doesn’t matter where you go, if you do well in school and do what you are supposed to do, we will be at every game. Before he stepped foot on campus, we were already decided.”
One would think with parents as dedicated to their son as the Bonds are, that perhaps a more local college would have been more suitable. Of course, there was also an added bonus to the snowy trails of the colder northeast.
“I snowboard a little bit,” Bonds said laughing. “So coming up here, that was a good part.”
Though the wins haven’t been as plentiful as they were earlier in his career, Bonds has never relented. Amid a career season, the 6'5" big man has become a nightly double-double threat, averaging 22.6 points per game (16th in Division II) and 12.3 rebounds per game (tied for second in DII). His eleven double-doubles have him tied for third in the nation, and his 4.6 offensive rebounds per game are the best in the Northeast-10 — also fourth best in DII.
“Knowing that my team needed me to perform at a high level was a big factor,” Bonds said. “I knew I was going to be one of the older guys coming into my junior year. I was going to be looked to for help leading the team, not only in the box score, but also as an example of how to play the game properly and be successful in this league. The results have come from trying to set that example.”
Bonds' performance against Pace on Jan. 10th exemplifies the player that he has become. His stat line — 25 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and eight steals — looks attractive, but it only tells half the story. All eight of Bonds’ steals came in the final 15 minutes of play. He blocked the game-winning shot with seconds left in overtime, and was fouled on the rebound. His ensuing free throw was the game-winner. Bonds seemingly willed this team to a win by himself.
“It was fun to play,” said Bonds. “Some of it I don’t even remember because I was so locked in. I saw that we were down and we needed stops. We needed points. We needed anything to win.”
While Bonds' career may not end in the NCAA tournament, it will end with him becoming one of Saint Michael’s most highly decorated players. His 976 rebounds are third all-time in Saint Michaels lore and second across all three divisions amongst current active players. His 1,321 career points are 18th in SMC history, largely behind a career-best free throw percentage. His 38 career double-doubles are second to none amongst active DII players.
His parents never had a doubt that Bonds would become one of the NE-10’s most feared big men.
“It’s not whether you’re going to play in the NBA or whether you’re going to play [overseas],” Toni said. “Our motto is whatever position that you are in at the moment be your best. Do your best. We didn’t have a doubt. It was his love for basketball and desire to get better. He practiced on his breaks. He’s always doing something so that when he goes back to school, he’ll be ready to play.”
Toni and Michael were along every step of the way of Matt’s journey. Together, they have shared an experience many families would be jealous to have.
“The word that sums it up is grateful,” his mother said. “We’re grateful that we had the opportunity to come and support him and see him mature and develop. He started basketball late. To see him mature, not only physically in the game, but mentally as well -- we are just in awe that we had this opportunity to be there for him during the ups, and during the downs. Whether they win or lose.”