Soccer — erm, football — might be the world’s game, but Belgium native Matt Hodge had no dreams of playing on the pitch, but rather the hardwood.
The love for soccer might be contagious in his home country, but his heart was always elsewhere. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Odell, who played professionally overseas and was a Division I basketball player at Old Dominion. There was no clear-cut path for him in Belgium, but Hodge was prepared to do anything.
“My dad really helped me staying humble and having the right attitude with everything in basketball,” Hodge said. “In Belgium, this sport isn’t really that popular as it is over here. I was playing for fun, but also taking it serious starting at age 12, which was a big step for me. In Belgium, they don’t really have the right tools to get better like they do over here with AAU and high school. My dad pushed me to go into a boarding school and really taking basketball seriously for 20 hours a week and doing that until I moved over here.”
Hodge made the big move to go across the Atlantic Ocean and move to the United States in the summer of 2022, with hopes to pursue his basketball goals.
“If I didn’t make that decision, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Hodge said. “I’m really grateful that I’m here right now. ... For me and my brother, we never knew if our dreams could actually become reality because we were in Belgium and it’s not easy to get into college from over there. We were ready for anything.”
On Friday, the 6-foot-8 forward got to fulfill his own Division I dreams, when he announced his commitment to play at Villanova.
He chose the Wildcats over Penn State, Maryland, Marquette, Seton Hall and Xavier, who also made his final six list earlier this week.
“Super excited by my choice, I felt like that was the place I really wanted to be in, where I could shine the most and really get the most out of my potential,” Hodge said. “Any school on my list was a great school and had a great path for me, and every visit I took was super exciting, but Villanova just felt right. It was the right move for me in my heart. After really thinking for a while, it popped up and sticked around and that’s where I wanted to go. I went with that feeling.”
Hodge was one of the biggest stock-risers this past offseason. He amassed 17 Division I offers, with 16 of them coming after March 1, before trimming his list down.
He entered the spring with plenty of momentum following a solid junior season at St. Rose (N.J.). The four-star prospect, according to 247 sports, averaged 14.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 blocks per game last season and helped St. Rose win the New Jersey Non-Public B state title for the first time in 19 years.
“I’m a versatile player,” said Hodge, defining his strengths on the court. “I’m a player that’s willing to do a lot and can play a lot of multiple positions on the court, both offensively and defensively.”
In the title game, he logged 19 points and eight boards against a loaded Roselle Catholic squad headlined by Mackenzie Mgbako (Indiana), Simeon Wilcher (St. John’s) and Akil Wilson (Arizona State).
While the move to New Jersey may have been intimidating for Hodge, he wasn’t completely alone. He moved in with his high school coach at St. Rose, Brian Lynch, who had also played at Villanova from 1996-2000.
Lynch is also his godfather and was teammates with Odell Hodge in Europe.
Hodge credits Lynch for the opportunity and for helping him through the recruitment process but notes that his decision was made completely on his own.
“He really helped me in comparing every school on the basketball aspect,” Hodge said. “I could really talk to him about how a roster looks, what are they losing next year, and if their play fits my style. He was really effective in that way.
“Knowing that he went to Villanova had nothing to do with my decision, and I want to make that clear, too. He never pushed me a certain way or led me to go to Villanova, that was all my decision and I’m really grateful for that.”
Hodge says Mike Nardi was the first to recruit him from Villanova’s staff. It started with a few visits for his high school games, before the ‘Cats officially offered him in late June. He officially visited in July, and it already started feeling like home.
“It was a place I could see myself being in the moment I stepped on campus,” Hodge said. “It was great, the environment is perfect. ... I had a really good feeling when talking to Coach Neptune and picking his brain a little bit. Seeing how he thinks and how he feels about the game, I felt like there were a lot of similarities in how we think and our values, and that was pretty good.”
With his college recruitment process, Hodge is focused on his final high school season. Last winter was a resurgent season for St. Rose, and he and his teammates hope to follow up with an amazing sequel. He’s also grinding away in the gym.
“I feel like getting a little bit more physical to get ready for college basketball,” Hodge said. “Also, my body, I want to work on a little bit more so I’m comfortable on the college level to use ball screens and do a little bit more with my ball-handling skills.”
His message to the fans?
“They could expect that I’ll do anything and be willing to do anything to help the team win,” Hodge said. “That’s my No. 1 thing — do anything to help the team win games. I’m excited to be on campus, getting to know the students and the fans of course.”