The road from senior-to-be at Los Lunas High School in Los Lunas, N.M., to the final weekend of his home career at Fort Lewis College was rife with detours and unexpected destinations for Matt Billups.
There was the loss of his father, then the disappearance of interest from his top college choice.
Then there was a one-year stint at a junior college, followed by less frequent playing time.
Then Billups was a starter, then he wasnt, then he was again during his tenure at FLC.
But standing where he is now, theres not a whole lot the senior point guard would change.
Billups and his 12 points-per-game average are a big reason why a season full of ups and downs for the Skyhawks could finish with them as high as fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in a season where traction has been hard to get a handle on.
Hes been a great fit since he came, FLC head coach Bob Hofman said.
The story starts right before Billups senior year at Los Lunas, when a crop of schools including Air Force, Southeastern Louisiana and Penn had the 2008 Albuquerque Metro Player of the Year on their radar. Then Billups father and longtime coach, Harold, died midway through the season. As the season wore on, the Division I offers began to dry up.
I really wanted to go to Penn, an Ivy League school; they were really recruiting me hard, and thats where my dad wanted me to go. ... I honestly couldnt tell you why schools stopped calling, said Billups, a District VII All-Academic selection this season. I just didnt know, so my last option was junior college.
With Penn, his top choice, out of the picture and recruiting season drawing to a close, Billups decided to spend the next year playing at Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, Texas. Without his fathers ear to bend about basketball, Billups was lost in Texas, a feeling which only got worse when he began losing playing time for reasons he didnt understand.
My coach never really gave me a reason, but he stopped playing me a lot. I went from starting to, some games, not even playing at all, he said. And I never was given the right explanation.
It was at that point that Hofman and associate head coach Bob Pietrack realized they might have a shot at landing the 6-foot guard. Billups friend and former FLC standout DeAndre Lansdowne hinted that Billups may be unhappy with his junior-college program, so Fort Lewis made its push.
Im pretty sure we heard that he wasnt happy, that he would possibly be open (to coming to FLC). ... DeAndre Lansdowne pretty much informed us that he could come available, Hofman said.
Coach Pietrack kept in contact with me through the year and stuck with me. And I said, You know what, this guy stuck with me, and I want to get out of here, so I owe it to them to just come, Billups said.
After the transfer, Billups enjoyed a solid season at the helm of the FLC offense as a sophomore, scoring 7.1 points per game and dishing out nearly two assists per contest.
But at the start of Billups junior season, Hofman decided that Billups may be more useful as a combo guard off the bench, picking up junior-college transfer Dorian Williams to man the point. Billups said he was caught off guard a bit at first, but he understood that he was in the lineup to play a role.
I talked to coach Hofman about it, and you know, it was for the better of the team. ... It all worked out for the best, he said.
When Williams didnt pan out, Billups role as a starter became ironclad as the Skyhawks won the RMAC Shootout and made their deepest NCAA Tournament run to date before falling to Minnesota State-Mankato in the Sweet 16. The hard work finally had paid off.
It felt so great. I never really won anything that substantial in my life, he said. The first thing I told my girlfriend was, This is the happiest moment Ive ever had in my life.
Now, a player Hofman calls one of the pillars of his program stands staring at the end of his career at FLC. And while one important member of his family cant be with him on Senior Day tonight against Western State, Billups is certain of how his dad would feel.
I know he would be (proud), Billups said. I think about him every day and try to play the game and make him proud.