By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Director
DAYTON — Matt Witt’s ability to create magic with a basketball in his hands allowed him to travel the world and play the game he loved for nearly a decade.
When the time came, however, the greatest player in Bethel High School and Eastern Kentucky University realized there was something here at home far more important than the game he loved so much.
Six months ago, Witt and his wife of four years, Tara, gave birth to their son, Kaleb. Witt’s life changed in an instant. In a split second, traveling across Europe and playing basketball took a back seat to spending time with his baby boy.
“I was set to go back and play, but when we found out my wife was pregnant, I knew it was time to walk away,” Witt said. “I don’t have any regrets at all. I got to travel to pretty much every country in western Europe playing a game I loved and got paid for it. When I was young and single, I thought I would play for 15 or 20 years before I retired. Having a kid was a life-changer, for sure. Now I know there’s no way I could possibly leave him. There’s no way I could ever go back.”
Witt has closed the door on one of the most decorated careers of any basketball player in Miami County history. He holds nearly every record in Bethel history, including 2,366 career points scored. As a junior in 2001, he helped lead the Bees to the Division IV state championship, the only boys basketball title in school history. He also was named first team All-Ohio in both 2001 and 2002, including Ohio Division IV Co-Player of the Year as a senior.
Following his career at Bethel, Witt would go on to play at Eastern Kentucky University, where he would again pile up honors and accolades. He would be named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year his first year there. As a junior, he helped lead the Colonels to a school-record 22 wins and a spot in the the NCAA Tournament. Witt would graduate from EKU as the school leader in scoring, 3-point field goals and is second in school history in assists. He also was named to EKU’s All-Century Team.
Following his graduation from EKU in 2006 with a degree in exercise science, Witt got a few looks from the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers, but ultimately had to take his talents overseas to continue his basketball career.
“They looked at my game film, but my size was always my biggest downfall,” Witt said.
Had Witt decided to play a different sport — namely baseball — his career my have taken a different path. A stellar outfielder and pitcher for the Bees — the ambidextrous Witt could actually pitch with either hand — Witt was tabbed by a number of scouts as a potential professional player.
Ultimately, however, his love of the hardwood took some shine off the baseball diamond.
“I get asked that a lot — especially by the people who know me really well. They all want to know if I regret not playing baseball,” Witt said. “My dad actually played minor league baseball for seven years in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, but he never pushed baseball on me. I loved playing basketball, and that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t look back on it too much — there’s nothing I can do do change it anyway.”
Following his graduation from EKU, Witt left almost immediately to start playing basketball in Europe. He spent the next seven years there, playing two years in Germany, one year in the Netherlands, three years in Spain and his final year in the Ukraine.
Along the way, Witt got married. His first few years playing abroad, his wife spent much of the nine-month season with him — but his final few years, Witt only saw her for about three weeks during the season.
“She’s a nurse, so she is very focused on her job,” Witt said. “Toward the end, it got a little tougher, because I wouldn’t see her very much. Although I guess in some ways it helped our marriage, because every time I would come home in the summer, it was like we were newlyweds all over again. Now she probably wishes I would go back and play again sometimes.”
Not only would Witt reconnect with his wife every summer, but he found a new love as well. During the offseasons, Witt began doing CrossFit training with high school friend — and former Bethel football player — Mike Poppa. Witt quickly fell in love with the training method — and saw benefits from it on the basketball court.
“Mike Poppa is one of my best friends — he was the best man at my wedding. He had opened his own CrossFit gym and he really got me into it,” Witt said. “I would do it in the offseason. Every time I would go back to training camp after I had been doing it for awhile, I noticed it was easier and easier every time. I really fell in love with it.”
So much so that when he found out his first child was on the way and his basketball career was over, he decided to make a career of it. In May of last year, Witt opened Gem City CrossFit in Beavercreek, where he is both the owner and a coach.
“After basketball, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” Witt said. “I had always played basketball — I had never had a real job before. My wife and I talked about it and I knew there were risks in starting a new business, but she said, ‘We have the money and you’ve never worked a 9-to-5 job before — I don’t see you happy sitting at a desk all day.’”
The risk — much like the risks Witt routinely took on the basketball court when he would thread no-look passes between two defenders to teammates — paid off.
“Business is going really well,” Witt said. “I’ve got about 60 clients right now and a lot of people who are getting in touch with me because they want training.”
Despite having lived a full life, Witt said he still thinks back his time at Bethel often.
“Yeah, it’s definitely something I think about,” he said. “I’ve only been back to Bethel once since I graduated when I was inducted into their hall of fame, but I still talk to a lot of the guys from the team. I loved playing there. I loved playing basketball there.”
Even if that love of basketball has since been replaced.