You can be forgiven if you weren't excited to hear that Xavier landed Cleveland native Matt Stainbrook back in 2012. Back then, Matt weighed something along the lines of 350 pounds, had problems staying on the court because of fouls and conditioning, and had also considered transferring to programs like Wright State and Kennesaw State before choosing Xavier. Talented, but possessed of seemingly limited self control and a body built for neither comfort nor speed, it was difficult to see how Stainbrook was going to positively impact the Musketeers.
Fast forward to last Thursday. A 260 pound center for Xavier is spending 30 minutes putting Kaleb Tarczewski and the Arizona front line through a trial by fire they never expected. Showcasing some face up game, a plethora of back to the basket moves, and incredibly deft touch around the rim, that center, rocking sport goggles and a rather unorthodox haircut for a basketball player, goes for 17/10/2 with a steal and two blocks in 34 minutes of brilliant basketball. As you well know, it's the very same Matt Stainbrook that washed out at Western Michigan and considered restarting his career at Kennesaw State. Now a staple of the Musketeers, Matt will go down as one of the more memorable players in the recent history of the program.
Upon arriving at Xavier the first thing Matt did was get himself into shape. At Western Michigan his size and inability to transition from one end of the floor to the other well had been just about the only thing that slowed him against lesser competition. By the time this season at Xavier ended it's entirely possible that Stainbrook was 90 pounds lighter than he'd played as a sophomore. Shedding a sixth grader was actually not the first thing that Xavier fans noticed about Matt though, that honor would go to his sartorial elegance. Stainbrook spent his transfer season sitting on the end of the bench sporting all manner of bowties and history professor level suit jackets. Coach Mack told Matt to lose the hair, lose the weight, and lose the pads he'd become accustomed to playing with. By the time he took the court for Xavier, he'd done all three.
The Stain Train, as he became known, had an instant impact for a Xavier team that had lacked steel in the post the season before. Matt scored in double figures in 20 of Xavier's 34 games, led qualifiers in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage, and block percentage. Stainbrook saved his best game of the year for NC State in the play-in game, going for 19/9/0 in what would ultimately be a losing effort. More than the numbers though, he showed that he could adapt his body and game to compete in the Big East after transitioning from the MAC.
This season Matt came back in even better shape on an even better team. Scoring in double figures in 24 of Xavier's 37 games, Stainbrook led the team in scoring and rebounding, was second in assists, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage, and third in blocks. Matt also lead the team in effective field goal percentage (and was 31st in the nation) and offensive efficiency. In short, he became a vital cog on a team that earned a six seed in the NCAA tournament. Once again, Matt saved his best for last, averaging 16/8/2 on 63.7% shooting in the seven game end of season stretch that propelled Xavier into and through the NCAA tournament.
As vital as he was on the court, it was Matt off the court that endeared him to nearly everyone he came across. The Uber story is now nationally known, but Matt originally launched it with no fanfare, just a genuine desire to help his brother. The bowties disappeared once Matt started travelling in team gear, but the friendly and quirky personality that inspired that decision did not. Stainbrook was a constant source of entertainment on Twitter whether campaigning to be point guard after a five assist game against Butler, building a snowman and then losing his phone in it, or using his brother as a pillow on roadtrips, Matt documented it all.
Replacing players often becomes a matter of math. Points here, rebounds there, plug it all in and the team fits together. Replacing someone like Matt Stainbrook is more difficult. He brought attitude on the court to go along with a more freewheeling spirit off of it. He was, by his own admission, not the prototypical college athlete, but he was a very effective one. Matt took pride in beating people who thought that "big, tall white guy, long hair, pads all over, goggles" was where the scouting report ended.
More importantly even than that, Matt came into Xavier as a transfer and instantly became a piece it's hard to imagine the program without. As fans and former players, we want to see someone who seems to get the same genuine joy from the game that it brings us. In a game occasionally filled with surly, gruff, and arrogant players, Matt was a breath. He was a center with the passing eye of a guard, exulting just as much when making his teammates better as he did when scoring himself. There was a joie de vivre in the big man that not everyone plays with, and it was fun to watch. It will be hard for Xavier to replace Matt Stainbrook's production, it will be far more difficult to replace the singular way he did it.