When he was a junior in high school, Matthew Cleveland’s father gave him the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. He read it cover to cover and still uses many of the lessons he learned from that book as he approaches his sophomore season as a member of the Florida State Basketball Team.
“The most important thing I learned from studying the book was that being a leader isn’t only about the people you’re leading; it’s about you and your own ability to be a leader. A leader is truly about your potential and how effective you are in how you are leading those you are leading,” said Matthew.
Cleveland’s leadership was just one of the many topics covered at the ACC’s Annual Basketball Tipoff at the Westin Hotel on Wednesday. The reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year was joined by redshirt junior Caleb Mills and Head Coach Leonard Hamilton as Florida State’s representatives at the day-long event. Each of the 15 conference teams took their turn answering questions from local and national media with their sights set on the start of the 2022-23 season, which is less than one month away.
Cleveland is Florida State’s second-leading returning scorer, as he averaged 11.5 points while playing in 29 of the Seminoles’ 31 games last year. He was the fourth consecutive Seminole to earn Sixth Man of the Year honors in the nation’s top conference, following in the footsteps of Mfiondu Kabengele (2019), Patrick Williams (2020), and Scottie Barnes (2021).
“Being a leader is important to me because it’s a role that encompasses all aspects of your life,” said Matthew. “Learning to be a leader is something I can apply to many of the things I do, including working hard and doing well in school, my life outside of basketball and my life after basketball.”
Cleveland illustrated his desire to be one of the Seminoles’ leaders early during his freshman season. He scored in double figures against Florida in just his second career game, made the game-winning basket in overtime to lead the Seminoles over Boston University in just the fifth game of his career, and surpassed the 20-point mark for the first time in his career in the middle of January.
Cleveland then made one of the most dramatic shots of the 2022 college basketball season as he sank a near half-court, turnaround no-look jumper to propel the Seminoles past Virginia, 64-63, on the road in ACC play.
Hamilton, a veteran leader himself, marvels at Cleveland’s leadership abilities despite his relative inexperience.
“You go back and watch the season last year,” said Hamilton. “There were so many times as a freshman when we needed a play and Matthew came through. He has the “factor” that you can’t really describe. He makes the big plays at the end. He’s not afraid of the moment. We expect him to keep getting better and better.”
It didn’t take Hamilton long to realize Cleveland’s competitiveness, as he praised him early, and often, during his freshman season.
Matthew is farther along than most guys we’ve had who were first-year players,” Hamilton said prior to the Seminoles’ game against Georgia Tech in January of 2022. “He’s extremely competitive, he’s very confident, he knows how to play within who he is and his abilities. He plays with a tremendous amount of effort, and he’s a great defender.”
Matthew’s father, Ralph, has always encouraged the fourth of his four children (and only son) to work hard and excel at everything he attempts.
“I’ve always encouraged Matthew to go beyond his own individual contribution,” said Ralph. “Basketball is a team sport, and teams must have good leaders who know and understand how to bring others along on the journey while demanding high performance for everyone on the team. Being a leader is an exercise of subordinating yourself to the greater good of the team and modeling that for others to follow. When you can model it for others, it is then that you can be more vocal.
“I’ve always used basketball as a way to impart life lessons that I knew would serve him in all areas of life and in any field of endeavor. That’s always my goal. As a parent, you do the best you can do to expose them and guide them. Matthew is quiet but always learning.”
Matthew has already begun to make his mark not only on the Seminole basketball team, but also at Florida State University.
He is a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and was named to the 2022 All-ACC Academic Men’s Basketball Team and the 2022 ACC Academic Honor Roll while earning ACC Freshman of the Week honors three times. Matthew was named to the Academic Dean’s List and won the Golden Nole as the Rookie of the Year among all of Florida State’s student-athletes in 2022.
While he has seemingly accomplished so much in such a short time, it’s his desire to be a complete Seminole that stands out to his teammates.
“Matthew is more of a show-us than a tell-us leader,” said freshman guard Chandler Jackson. “For example, when one of our teammates doesn’t fully understand a component of one of our schemes, he likes to show them what to do so they can visualize the concept and fully understand why things are supposed to happen as they are designed. He takes time to walk us through plays that we don’t understand and allows us to comprehend so we can become better players.”
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