Matt Grooms’ parents will tell you their 22-year-old son is anything but a normal Division I athlete. A casual glance into his bedroom offers proof.
Grooms, a first-year walk-on at Boise State, lines his walls with books and maintains a miniature Buddhist shrine where he meditates.
Then there’s his roommates.
Instead of bunking with teammate and friend Zach Haney, or other teammates, Grooms still lives with his parents, Mike and Paige, and their dogs Gus, Ruby and Bella.
“He’s a good roommate,” Mike Grooms said. “He’ll get things done. He’ll take out the trash, he’ll do stuff on his own.”
On the wall next to Grooms’ door frame in his bedroom is a small, framed piece of paper. It’s not a poem or cliché saying; it’s a note he wrote to himself before attending an open tryout at Boise State in October.
The note is titled: “Everyday Challenge.” It’s about 15 lines long and includes the following:
“Today, win or lose, I am a champion. I am myself, success or failure. I will use this opportunity for growth as I always have and always will continue to do. Smile, laugh and cry: this moment is mine.”
Grooms’ path, much like the contents of his room, is unconventional. He starred at Rocky Mountain High in Meridian and led the Grizzlies to a 5A state championship appearance in 2013. Because of his 6-foot-4 frame, and the fact he was a post player, the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook for his services in college.
Grooms played at Walla Walla Community College in Washington for two seasons before realizing he wasn’t getting a Division I offer. He returned to Boise, figured he was destined to be a normal student and enrolled at Boise State to pursue a degree in criminal justice, all while living at home to save money.
“I thought basketball was done for me,” Grooms said. “I’ll just finish up school. I’m playing city league basketball, and I thought that was it.”
Grooms kept busy with city league and student work for a year before receiving a phone call that the Broncos were holding open tryouts. He had no clue Boise State held tryouts, but felt the itch to be part of a team again.
A day after the workout, Grooms received a phone call from assistant coach Chris Gold informing him that he made the team. He had two reactions:
▪ Deal with a wave of emotions that ranged from confusion to happiness.
▪ Inform his city league teammates he wouldn’t be able to make it to that night’s game.
“I was surprised by the news that he tried out,” said David Warwick, one of Grooms’ city league teammates. “But then I actually thought it was really cool. It was really cool that he actually made it.”
Grooms made the team after jerseys were ordered, so he was given a blank No. 40 with no name on the back. It was a jersey reserved as a spare for when players got blood on theirs during games.
“A name on the back of the jersey doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m here to help these guys as best I can,” he said.
Grooms has played five minutes this season and has not scored a point. He might be the only person in the world who models himself after former Kansas star and current Oklahoma City Thunder player Nick Collison because, like him, he’s a somewhat unathletic player with a team-first mentality who doesn’t care about statistics.
The payoff for his hard work doesn’t look luxurious, but Grooms is living his dream and staying true to that mantra on his wall. He is determined to be the best version of himself.
“If you meet Matt Grooms, he’s going to shake your world up, because he’s going to do things one way. … He doesn’t accept anything other than 100 percent,” said Dane Roy, his coach at Rocky Mountain. “There’s nobody like him, that’s for sure.”
Grooms was an All-Idaho selection at Rocky Mountain and was the best player in the city league, according to Warwick. But on a Division I level, Grooms doesn’t necessarily look the part. He does not live the glamorous lifestyle of a Division I athlete, either.
All Grooms does at practice some days is run sprints. Other times he stands there, slamming the big men with foam pads as resistance as they get practice reps.
“My thoughts were, ‘Why is he doing it?’ ” Mike Grooms said. “If you’re not getting a scholarship, would you want to put the time in?”
But to know Matt Grooms is to understand that piece of paper on his wall. Grooms is on a constant mission for self-improvement, and not for his own benefit. He puts in the work because he wants to make those around him better.
“Whatever I can do to help, it’s something bigger than me,’’ Grooms said.
That dedication to his teammates is not lost on the Broncos’ coaching staff.
“He certainly has an energy about himself that is very uplifting on those down days. But, then, he’s good at getting in the ear of the right guy and just helping him out,” Boise State assistant coach John Rillie, who frequently works with the scout team, said. “His energy and positive attitude are the things that allow him to really help this team. And that’s what he’s bringing every day.”
Before joining the Boise State team, Grooms was a volunteer assistant for Roy at Rocky Mountain. Despite a hectic schedule, Grooms still holds that title, attending workouts with current Grizzlies and stopping by practice after he gets done at Boise State.
As a player for the Grizzlies, Roy remembers the day Grooms got his two front teeth knocked out at practice. Grooms’ complaint? His mom would be upset with him because senior pictures were the next day. He continued practice anyway.
“I remember when he didn’t make the AAU team,” his mother, Paige, said. “He went out, and he started shooting. And that kid was out there and he would shoot the same shot 100 times, 1,000 times. And I would say ‘What are you doing?’ (And he would say) ‘I’m going to get this shot down.’”
Groom’s strong will and desire to help is prevalent in his everyday life. His father proudly recounts a story of how Matt saw homeless people under a highway overpass with no shoes. Grooms spent his own money to buy shoes and handed them out.
“He does that stuff out of the blue. … It sure does (make you proud),” Mike Grooms said. “I don’t think there’s anything really normal about him. He’s like one of those kids that just beats your expectations.”
Grooms wouldn’t live his life in any other manner. The unselfish mentality he carries has gotten him farther than he could have imagined.
“I just remember me coming to games when I was in high school. ... I just kept trying to picture myself from when I was a couple years ago, looking down on the court thinking, ‘Wow this is a big, big deal,’” Grooms said. “It hasn’t really set in for me.”
If there’s a way for Matt Grooms to help others, he’s going to get it done, his parents said.
“Selfless. Just really selfless,” Paige Grooms said. “I don’t know a 20-year-old like him. I don’t know a 50-year-old (like him). He’s pretty special.”
Boise State (13-7, 6-3 MW) at Colorado State (14-8, 6-3)
- When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
- Where: Moby Arena (8,745), Fort Collins, Colo.
- Broadcast: ESPN3
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler and Abe Jackson), BroncoSports.com. Fans can also listen to the game at BroncoSports.com.
- Notes: Boise State and Colorado State are tied for second in the Mountain West at the halfway point of the league season. ... BSU beat CSU in Boise 74-73 on Dec. 31. ... The Rams have won three straight games (Utah State, San Jose State, San Diego State).