Son of Georgia Tech alums, Matthew Cleveland shines for Florida State

Growing up and cheering for Georgia Tech as a child, Matthew Cleveland had his favorites. Calvin Johnson was the first football player he remembered. For basketball, his favorites were of a more recent vintage, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Josh Okogie.

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“I like the way he played a lot, and the swagger that he had on the court,” Cleveland said of Georges-Hunt.

“From Josh Okogie, I just liked the way he played on defense,” Cleveland told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Just how, no matter what was going on the offensive side of the ball, he was always good on defense, guarding the other team’s best player.”

On Wednesday night in the arena where he once rooted for his parents’ alma mater, Cleveland will be in Florida State’s garnet and gold as his team attempts to extend Tech’s misery. Cleveland is the latest metro Atlanta product to shine for the Seminoles, a dangerous freshman wing player who is skilled at finishing at the basket and also knows the words to “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.”

“It’s going to be a cool experience,” said Cleveland, a Pace Academy graduate whose family lives in Atlanta. “I think just stepping out on the court for the first time, it’s going to be just a lot to take in. It’s going to be a great experience overall.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Matthew Cleveland (left) is a Florida State basketball player in the 2021-22 season, but his parents are graduates of Georgia Tech. Matthew is shown here at the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that featured Tech and Kentucky. He's with his family: (L-R) sisters Alyssa and Bryana, his dad, Ralph, and his mother, Sandra. (Contributed by Cleveland family.)

Credit: Photo contributed by Matthew Cleveland

Matthew Cleveland (left) is a Florida State basketball player in the 2021-22 season, but his parents are graduates of Georgia Tech. Matthew is shown here at the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that featured Tech and Kentucky. He's with his family: (L-R) sisters Alyssa and Bryana, his dad, Ralph, and his mother, Sandra. (Contributed by Cleveland family.)

Credit: Photo contributed by Matthew Cleveland

Combined ShapeCaption
Matthew Cleveland (left) is a Florida State basketball player in the 2021-22 season, but his parents are graduates of Georgia Tech. Matthew is shown here at the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., that featured Tech and Kentucky. He's with his family: (L-R) sisters Alyssa and Bryana, his dad, Ralph, and his mother, Sandra. (Contributed by Cleveland family.)

Credit: Photo contributed by Matthew Cleveland

Credit: Photo contributed by Matthew Cleveland

Florida State (13-5, 6-2 ACC) is tied for first with Miami (whom Tech -- 8-10, 1-6 -- plays Saturday) thanks in no small part to Cleveland, who ranks second on the team in scoring (10.8 points per game) and third in rebounding (4.8 per game).

“Matthew’s farther along than most guys we’ve had who were first-year players,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “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.”

Tech coach Josh Pastner recognized those traits before any of his peers, awarding Cleveland his first scholarship offer, when he was a sophomore at Cambridge High before he transferred to Pace Academy. Cleveland’s father, Ralph, remembers the family was invited to visit campus. At the end, Pastner and assistant coach Julian Swartz huddled together, and then made the offer. Ralph was shocked and speechless for his son to receive an offer from his and his wife’s alma mater.

“It was surreal, it really was,” Ralph Cleveland said. “I’m forever thankful and grateful for the coaches there taking the time to get to know him. It was surreal.”

Cleveland, whose stock shot up in the summer before his junior year and became a five-star prospect ranked the No. 25 player in his class (247Sports Composite). Cleveland considered Tech and had the Yellow Jackets in his top 10 before leaving them out of his final five of Florida State, Stanford, Kansas, Michigan and N.C. State. Pastner and his staff recruited him relentlessly.

“I Iove them,” Cleveland said. “There’s just like a homey atmosphere. They’re just really, really good people overall.”

Said Pastner: “Matthew Cleveland’s such a phenomenal young man, and his parents are awesome.”

Florida State won out, as Cleveland joined the legion of Seminoles from metro Atlanta, including Toney Douglas, Malik Beasley and M.J. Walker, among others, another win for Seminoles assistant Charlton Young, a former Tech assistant on coach Paul Hewitt’s staff.

“The people and the coaches made me comfortable,” Cleveland said. “They made me feel like I was at home.”

Another factor – after basketball, Cleveland is interested in going to law school and becoming an FBI agent. Cleveland was intrigued by Florida State’s nationally recognized criminology program. He’s already taking a class in the degree.

“Normally when they assign readings, it feels like homework,” Cleveland said. “But in this class, it just feels like an extracurricular activity that I get to study. It’s been fun so far.”

Cleveland’s parents are delighted thus far. They see him growing as a leader and feeling comfortable in his surroundings.

“I feel like my play’s been really good,” Matthew said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, but it’s been a good experience just with my teammates helping me feel comfortable, learning the offense, learning the defense.”

Ralph acknowledged that it would have been exciting if their son had wanted to study engineering or management – Ralph earned his degree in mechanical engineering and now runs his own management consulting business after a career in the energy field; Sandra was a management major and teaches math at Heritage Elementary School in south Fulton County – and chosen Tech.

“But he’s got other interests and passions, and as parents, all of us want to support our kids and help them become the very best version of themselves, and that means you’ve got to pick a school that’s going to allow them to do that, as well,” Ralph Cleveland said. “Florida State was just a terrific fit for all of those things.”

It doesn’t change the Clevelands’ loyalty to Tech. Ralph served on the advisory board for the school of mechanical engineering. Sandra was a member of the Goldrush dance team. The family held season tickets for football when Matthew was a boy. Matthew’s understanding of what it meant to be a Tech supporter was strong enough that, during his recruitment, he asked his parents if they would let him go to Georgia if he received a scholarship offer. (They would have, Ralph said.)

“Georgia Tech was a great experience for my wife and I, certainly,” Ralph said. “Certainly, Florida State thus far has been a great experience for Matthew. That’s what really counts.”