State of Sports: It's been an interesting journey to stardom for SNHU's Becht

Mar. 22—THE BEST season of Matt Becht's college basketball career is nearing its end. Becht will do his part to extend the season Tuesday, when he leads the seventh-seeded Southern New Hampshire men's basketball team (24-10) against second-seeded Nova Southeastern (30-2) in the Division II tournament's Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana.

Becht, a graduate student, is a 6-foot-4 sharpshooting guard from Vienna, Virginia, who leads SNHU in scoring (16.4). He's particularly dangerous from behind the 3-point arc, where he's made 126 of his 279 field goal attempts this season (45.2%).

If you don't know how Becht landed at SNHU, then keep reading, because his story is an interesting one.

His collegiate career began at Mount St. Mary's University, a Division I school in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He received zero playing time during his two years there. Here's why:

"Once I got there, there was a lot of adversity that I came across immediately," Becht said. "In the span of the two years that I was there, I had three surgeries, two knee surgeries and I almost went blind in one of my eyes. There was a burst blood vessel behind my optic nerve. It was a rare condition that kinda came out of nowhere."

Becht had his first knee surgery during his first year in college. He had a procedure to take care of his eye during the summer between his first and second season at Mount Saint Mary's, but then tweaked his other knee early in his second season.

Becht also had to deal with a coaching change. He was recruited by Jamion Christian, who was then the Mount St. Mary's head coach. Christian left to become the head coach at Siena before Becht's freshman season, however. Dan Engelstad replaced Christian and felt it best to cut ties with Becht after Becht's second knee surgery.

"The coaching staff told me that even if I were to come back healthy that they were moving in a different direction," Becht explained. "They also wanted me to get a fresh start."

Shortly thereafter, Becht entered the NCAA transfer portal. Becht's medical history scared away most coaches. SNHU's Jack Perri is among those who showed interest.

"Coach Perri was one of the first ones to reach out, and one of the only ones to reach out," Becht said. "There were not many schools that wanted to take a chance on a kid who was coming off three surgeries in two years.

"It was mainly Division II and Division III schools that reached out, and there weren't many Division II schools that recruited me hard at all. Some schools just said no. A lot of them are in the conference I'm currently in, the NE10. Probably had one or two offers, total."

Perri developed a relationship with Christian when they coached against each other while Perri was the head coach at Division I Long Island University (Brooklyn), and Christian called Perri with a recommendation when Becht was in the transfer portal.

"We had to bring in a bunch of new guys and we felt like we needed some shooting, so we pulled the trigger (on a scholarship offer)," Perri said. "This is the crazy thing. He didn't have (other offers), but he started being wishy-washy about it. I remember thinking, 'I have to give this kid a deadline and I've never done that.'

"He said he didn't want to be pressured, so I left him alone. Then he called me back a few days later and it was done."

The conversations between Becht and Perri all took place over the phone, since COVID prevented any school visits. Becht admitted that at first he didn't know much about SNHU, other than it offered a lot of online courses.

"I wanted to stay at the scholarship level to make it easier on my parents, so it was an opportunity I had to take," he said.

Becht said he felt comfortable at SNHU almost immediately after meeting his teammates, and it didn't take Perri long to realize he had landed someone who was much more than a shooter.

"I loved his energy," Perri said. "He always had good energy every day. He was trying to get everybody upbeat, and for a new kid coming in, I was like, 'Oh wow, this is a good culture piece regardless of what his talent level will be.' Then you hear the kids talking about the open gyms: 'Man, this kid really shoots it.'

"Once practice started, it was like, 'OK. This kid's going to be a good piece.' He's just gotten better and better. He's expanded his game so much each year it's been a lot of fun to watch."

Becht has provided the Penmen with offense since he arrived. He averaged 14.9 points per game during the 2021-22 season, and averaged 15.4 points per game last season.

Becht's leadership skills have also played a factor in the team's success this season. Last year, Perri called a team meeting in January with the hope of resolving some internal issues. Becht called a similar meeting this season after SNHU suffered a 70-68 home loss to Pace on Feb. 17. The Penmen are 10-0 since that meeting.

"He came in and said, 'Coach, I think we need that (meeting) again, but I think it will mean more if it comes from a player,'" Perri said.

Becht: "I felt the team was at a crossroads. I felt there was something that was keeping us from our potential. Coach did it last year and I felt the need to take the lead this year."

Becht entered the transfer portal a second time last spring. Perri said Becht received plenty of offers from Division I schools, but never found the right fit. Finally, Perri suggested that Becht remain at SNHU.

SNHU won the NE10 tournament earlier this month, and then beat top-seeded Saint Michael's College 73-61 Sunday to win the NCAA Division II tournament's East Regional. Becht was selected as the region's Most Outstanding Player. He was also a Northeast-10 All-Conference First Team selection this season.

"It really has kind of worked out in a way that I don't think (Perri) could have anticipated or I could have anticipated," Becht said. "The journey here has put people in my life that will be there forever, and I'm truly, truly grateful for that. The basketball stuff is extra. The accolades, the awards, the championships — those are tremendous, but it's really the relationships I've been able to forge here.

"It couldn't have worked out better."