Eugene, Ore. -- "He's not just... [he] wasn't just my teammate or a friend growing up," Oregon senior guard Payton Pritchard says. "I hear all the time 'oh lifelong friends'... No I don't think people understand it was like we lived together. Everyday he was permanent in our house. It wasn't just a friendship. It was brothers. We fought like brothers. Loved like brothers."
It's only right that the bond of brotherhood between Oregon's Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis started on a basketball court all the way back in the elementary school days.
"Their team just killed us by 30 and I remember at halftime I was balling my eyes out because we were losing so bad and my mom was like 'you need to stop. You need to get your act together,'" jokes Anthony Mathis. "And after that game [Payton's] Dad asked me to come play with their AAU team and that's how I started playing for FAST."
That was their start: AAU basketball. And from there the two became friends on and off the basketball court. But towards the end of middle school, a job offer in Wyoming for Mathis' mom presented a fork in the road for a young Anthony.
"She sat me down and said we're going to Gillette, you can either stay here with the Pritchards or you can come where it's probably not gonna be great basketball," Anthony remembers. "The Pritchards were obviously there for me so much and they gave me my own room and all that."
"My parents became his legal guardians over that time and he just moved in fully," says Payton. "And it was just a better opportunity for school and for sports to move with us and he was already with us."
By that time, Mathis was already with the Pritchards around five nights a week. But having someone over and having someone live in the house full time are two different things. And like it is for all parents with teenage brothers, it could get difficult to wrangle Payton and Anthony. So what was home life like?
"We fought like any other brothers over video games," Payton mentions.
"I can't remember if it was me beating him or his Dad," begins Mathis.
"I mean when you're growing up you fight for no reason at times."
"His mom comes in and unplugs it and I said 'do you need help moving something?' and she's like 'No I'm fine. She takes it out, unplugs it, gives it over her head and throws it on the ground."
"My mom broke the XBOX," Payton finally offers up.
"She grabs a hammer and starts smashing it," Mathis says while raising his arm up to jokingly mimic the smashing motion.
"So yeah...it was just like that."
"So we had no XBOX for a month and then christmas came," Mathis finishes.
Funny stories aside, both Pritchard and Mathis found their way in basketball, winning three straight titles at West Linn. Payton won one more as a senior, completing the Lion fourpeat in OSAA 6A basketball. At that point Anthony had already moved on, playing basketball at the University of New Mexico. Payton, the crown jewel of the state's 2016 recruiting class, decided to stay home and went to Oregon. But those high school days, playing for a juggernaut like West Linn, were a highlight for both Pritchard and Mathis even now.
"There was no other drama, there was no stats involved," Payton says. "Just playing with the fun of it, with your boys."
They stayed in close contact throughout their college careers. Mathis credits Pritchard with keeping him grounded while playing at New Mexico. And when Payton returned to Oregon after the 2019 season Anthony, with an extra year of eligibilty, looked at making a move to Eugene.
"We knew that he was gonna get an extra year, it was kind of advanced," Payton says. "Kind of in the works."
"If it can happen, I'm gonna make it happen," recalls Mathis. "I'm not gonna take any other visits. I'm just gonna come here and get to work."
Mathis committed and then enrolled at Oregon as a grad transfer, reuniting with his brother for a final collegiate season. They joke that it didn't sink in for a bit but once they got used to seeing each other in Oregon uniforms it got a lot easier. For those watching them all season long, the lifelong chemistry between the two was readily apparent.
"I think that part about brothers is you just know when they're off and on emotionally," Pritchard mentions.
"I know that just from looking at him and I'm sure he can see the same thing in me," says Mathis.
Anthony was second in the Pac-12 in three percentage and now holds the Matthew Knight Arena record for three pointers made. Payton was named the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year and the first AP All-American in program history, to name a few of his end of season accolades.
"When it comes to brothers you want the best for your brother," says Payton. "You want him to be so successful and his dreams come true. I think that's what helped him the most."
"It's just fun because sometimes, I'm just like, it's super cool to see," Mathis continues. "I just start thinking about the times we were in the gym together in high school, middle school, everything so it's super cool to see."
In their final game in their home state and in what would be the final game of their college careers, Mathis and Pritchard finished it like they did years ago at West Linn high school: Cutting down nets, and being named champions. While posing for pictures in front of a banner that read 'Pac-12 champions' and decked out in hats and shirts only given to those with the distinction of 'title winner', Pritchard looked over at Mathis and said something only the two of them could truly understand.
"Hey Ant!" Payton yelled to his brother. "High school days!"
"I think it's funny because [people] don't really know the history [of Payton and I]," Mathis says. "They think they know the history. We're not just friends, we're more than brothers for sure."
Neither knew it at the time but that would be the last college basketball game either would play. Before their first game at the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, the conference cancelled the event due to concerns aroun the Coronavirus. The NCAA Tournament was cancelled shortly thereafter. And yet for these two who have known each other their whole lives, who are legally and personally bound as brothers, ending their careers as Pac-12 champions in their home state felt right.
"We know it's the end for us playing together unless something crazy happens at the next level but this has been one heck of a ride that we'll always remember. And our kids will know about it and all of West Linn."
Brothers then, brothers now, brothers always.