By ANDY WOLF
A lot had to happen for Nick and Matt Ashley to land on the University of Findlay men’s basketball team.
The two brothers played their high school careers at Kubasaki High School — a Department of Defense School in Okinawa an island off mainland Japan.
They had only ever lived a military lifestyle.
From there Nick, a grade higher than Matt, enrolled at Akron University with interest in becoming a walk-on.
In Matt’s recruiting process he discovered he was a low Division I to Division II type player.
In an effort to stay geographically close to Nick, Matt’s father, Ernest reached out to UF coach Charlie Ernst via email.
The email was not only personally addressed to Ernst but caught his eye because of Matt’s background.
Once Ernst discovered Matt fit the bill as a player and a person, he had him on campus for a visit and later signed a National Letter of Intent .
Nick transferred shortly after.
“They’re great kids. Very respectful. Great personalities,” Ernst said. “They take responsibility for themselves and their own action and represent our program well. Their parents have done a good job of raising them.”
Nick, 20, and Matt, 19, were born in Albany, Georgia.
After a few years, the Ashley family relocated as Ernest was stationed in Camp Pendleton (Calif.) the major west coast base of the Marine Corp.
The Ashley’s remained there for 10 years before Ernest was relocated to a duty station in Germany.
Their next stop was the last for the brothers and allowed the pair to spend four years of high school in Okinawa.
Ernest works in the logistics side of the Marine Corp while their mother, Joanna, is a military counselor.
Ernest has since retired and is in the process of returning to the states.
Nick’s and Matt’s love for basketball stemmed from them tagging along to games with other marines.
In addition to basketball, both tried golf, soccer and track in high school.
“(Basketball) didn’t get serious until we moved to Germany.” said Matt, who played on one of Germany’s top under-17 teams as a 14-year-old.
Kubaski is located off mainland Japan with two American teams on Okinawa.
Matt was 5-foot-9 when he started his freshman year at Kubasaki.
He shot up five inches to 6-2 one year later.
“I realized I would keep growing so I started to work on little things,” said Matt, now 6-6 and 205 pounds.
Together, Nick and Matt turned Kubaski into a force to be reckoned with.
The Dragons won two straight Far East Division I tournament championships, the equivalent of the OHSAA state tournament. First Nick, then Matt were named tournament MVPs in their respective senior years.
The format is a single round-robin with seven teams, one from South Korea, plus a single-elimination playoff with a consolation game.
Their regular season schedule consisted of both American and local Japanese teams.
Nick is only 6-foot-2 but was still relegated to the post.
While it’s not uncommon for American high school teams to stick the big guy in the paint, the style of play was much different.
“They like to push the ball a lot, since it’s international rules, they don’t like to call a lot of fouls,” Nick said. “It’s more physical. How I played is more physical just because of that.”
Nick, admittedly, didn’t commit to playing hard until his junior year, focusing on getting his grades up for college acceptance.
Despite being a year younger, Matt hit the recruiting trail early on as a sophomore.
“Being in Japan it’s hard to put yourself out there because you’re so far out there,” Matt said.
Ernest recorded every game, allowing Matt to cut highlights. He submitted the final cut to countless college coaches all across the nation.
“It didn’t matter what division,” Matt said. “I just wanted to play after high school.”
Division II California State-Monterey Bay offered Matt a preferred walk-on spot. He also visited Sacramento State, California-Santa Cruz and, of course, Findlay.
Meanwhile, Nick was trying to walk on at Akron.
He initially passed up a chance to visit Findlay with Matt in the early fall. Like Matt’s opportunity with Cal State-Monterey Bay, it didn’t work out.
“Finally when it wasn’t working out coach Ernst gave me a chance for a walk-on opportunity,” Nick said.
Their initial email to Ernst could’ve easily gone overlooked.
Ernst estimates at least 30 “recruit-me” emails per day with the number escalating to 75 after the season.
Some are professionally done. Some are not.
Some contain too much information while others are presented as just the basics, often preferred by Ernst.
“I’ll get one from a middle schooler about once a month,” Ernst said. “It’s hard for me to really look at every email. I look at them because you just never know.”
“If the kid is good enough, I know what it takes. It puts it into context how amazing it is that kids like Matt and Nick ended up here.”
In Matt’s case, Ernst knew nothing about the competition he’d faced.
“If I got a video from someone in Ohio and the kid scored 38 points against Canton McKinley or Toledo St. John’s, I wouldn’t hardly even have to see video to say he must be pretty good,” Ernst said. “But when I get a video from Japan and a kid scores 38, I have no idea what that really means.”
Matt’s measurables were enough to warrant a visit and open gym tryout with the current players.
Ernst said a player’s performance in the individual workouts and in competing with players on the active roster is the biggest indicator of a good fit as opposed to watching video.
As a result, Matt became the first Kubasaki graduate to sign a letter of intent to play college basketball.
The transition from a military high school to a small-town college has been easy for the brothers.
Nick and Matt both found it easy to get to know everyone on campus in an accepting and welcoming environment.
“I didn’t have to change who I was,” Matt said. “The coaches were very understanding.”
He did have to alter his playing style.
The adjustment paralleled any in-state recruit joining the collegiate game where everyone is bigger, faster and stronger.
“I really didn’t use my body, every pound,” Matt said. “I have to now. I have to work every step in the post. You can’t just fake and go past. They’ll cut you off.
“Now I’m slowly starting to get a better understanding of pace and defensive-wise because I don’t have to guard someone who would just stand there and look at me.”
Simultaneously, Nick is polishing his skills as a guard where he feels he isn’t as good of a shooter as other players his height.
“I have to shoot the ball, dribble, create a lot different to myself because I haven’t played that position,” Nick said. “Where I want to be is to be able to bring more to the team with what I have in an expert in like defense, but more as a better offensive player.”
Nick played three minutes in three games this season, scoring five points.
Matt is expected to have a greater impact on the future of the program.
He made 13 appearances, totaling 28 points, four 3-pointers, 15 rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Ernst likens him to a mold of current senior Tyler Stern-Tucker with a skinny 6-8 frame combined with junior Taren Sullivan (6-6).
“(Matt) is very athletic, maybe the most athletic in our program and he shoots the ball well,” Ernst said. “He’s got other pieces to his game that he’s still working out.”
Men’s Basketball: Ashley brothers come from far east to NW Ohio
By ANDY WOLF