Growing up in the small Southern Illinois town of Kinmundy and attending South Central High School in Farina, Matt Laur didn't have a lot of options when it came to sports.
Backed with deep basketball roots, though, Laur turned himself into a dominant player in the paint by the time he was a senior in the fall of 1997.
"We had fall baseball, basketball in the late fall and winter and then baseball in the spring at South Central. We didn't have football," said Laur, now the head basketball coach and athletics director at Freeburg High School. "My parents always encouraged my brother, sister and myself to play other sports and we did. We played tennis and golf and we were involved in many other athletic activities.
"But basketball was always my first love."
In the 20 years since graduating from South Central, Laur has earned national recognition as a college player, spent some time in the professional ranks and embarked on a successful coaching career. Saturday, he will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.
At South Central, the son of Steve and Jeanne Laur played for IBCA Hall of Fame coach Gary Shirley. He was a second-team IBCA all-state selection during his senior season when he averaged 20.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 6.1 blocked shots per game and was the Effingham Daily News Player of the Year.
The Cougars won a school-record 28 games and earned their first berth in the Class A Charleston Super-Sectional.
Laur went on to a record-breaking college career under coach Harry Statham at McKendree University in Lebanon, where as a senior he helped lead the Bearcats to the NAIA Division I National Tournament semifinals in the 2002-03 season. He was named the 2002-03 NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Player of the Year
On Saturday at the annual IBCA Hall of Fame banquet, Laur will be enshrined with the great players and coaches in state history.
"I got a text from a former Coach last night (Wednesday) and when I told him, he said to me that I needed to stop being so humble and that I should have told him when I found out,'' Laur said. "I'm just a kid from Kinmundy, Illinois, who is very humbled by the honor.
"Its a very big deal and I couldn't be any more excited about it."
Laur, 37, comes from a family of athletes. His dad Steve was a standout high school player who like his son, went on to play college basketball for Statham at McKendree. His brother Derek, the all-time leader in points and rebounds at South Central, went on to play basketball at Washington University in St. Louis, and his sister Jill played volleyball at Greenville College.
But Matt Laur's foundation in basketball was laid by his first coach — his dad Steve.
"My mom wasn't the greatest athlete but she was a teacher and she coached," Laur said. "My dad was a basketball coach when I was real young and he later went on to become a principal and superintendent. And so I grew up in a very athletic and academic household. Those were two of the most important things. But not the most important things — church and family came first. I had that foundation from the time I was born.''
While his brother Derek was a four-year starter at South Central, Matt didn't have a real effect until his junior season. But it was as a senior when with the help of his coach, Gary Shirley, he led the Cougars to their best season. That success as a team, in turn got him noticed by college coaches.
At the top of that list was Statham, who like Shirley, has played a major role in the life of Matt Laur.
"Coach Shirley passed away a few years ago but he was a big-time mentor of mine," Laur said. "He is in the IBCA Hall of Fame as well. He had a lot of success and won numerous regional titles at South Central as a small school in the two class system. He is one who has a lot to do with me have this opportunity to go into the Hall of Fame. Coach Statham has a lot to do with this opportunity and obviously my parents and family have a lot to do with it.
"It's them 100 percent. It's not me. It's those people who gave me the opportunities, who believed in me and helped put me in places where I was able to have a successful career. I can't thank them enough."
But Laur, who scored more than 680 points during his senior year at South Central, would have even more success at the college level.
Following his excellent senior season, Laur received interest from several smaller NCAA Division I schools. But then there was McKendree.
"My dad went to McKendree and played for Coach Statham. That was a big part of why I went," Laur said. "The smaller D-1 schools who recruited me wanted me to redshirt and some talked about me going the junior college route and I didn't want to do that. When I visited McKendree I fell in love with it.
"It was a chance to play for Coach Statham who was already a legend. He had coached my dad. It was a Methodist University, my grandfather was a Methodist minister ... It all fell into place perfectly."
Still needing to get bigger and stronger, Laur ended up redshirting his freshman season.
"Redshirting my first year was the best decision we could have made," Laur said. "That was the year when I really started to and matured a lot. I had just turned 18 when I started college and I has a lost a lot of that baby fat. Work, diet and exercise was a big part of it. Plus, McKendree had a senior all-American that year by the name of Tony Lara. We went at it every day in practice and it helped me tremendously."
Statham remembers Laur as a player who could do it all.
"When Matt came in he was like 6-5 or 6-6, but he had huge feet. I think he wore a size 16 shoe and we thought we would redshirt him, get him stronger and maybe he would get a little taller," Statham said. "Well, I think he grew 5 or 6 inches and got a lot stronger his first year with us. He was a very determined player who worked very hard.
"We had some very good players to go with him and I think that helped him and I know it made our team very strong. But Matt was just an exceptional player. He knew the game extremely well, he could score, played good defense, rebounded and was an exceptional passer.''
Laur took it from there. Starting every game from his freshman season to the NAIA Division I Tournament semifinals as a senior, Laur became a great college basketball player.
A four-year all-American Midwest Conference first team selection, Laur led the Bearcats to the NAIA Tournament four times. The Bearcats won three regular-season AMC titles and two conference tournament championships. In Laur's four years, he was part of 116 wins, including back-to-back 30-win seasons in his final two years.
Laur was the AMC Freshman of the Year in 1999-2000 and was a two-time AMC Player of the Year. A third-team All-American as a freshman, Laur became a second-team All-American as a sophomore and junior before earning first-team honors as a senior when he was the NAIA Player of the Year.
"It was unbelievable to be named National Player of the Year,'' Laur said. "I still remember when Coach called me into his office to tell me I had won. It was a very emotional moment .... It's like this honor of going into the IBCA Hall of Fame. It's not just me. It's my teammates, it's my coaches and its my family. It's about all those people who made this possible.''
Laur finished his McKendree career as the Bearcats’ career leader in three statistical categories, including points (2,874), blocked shots (560) and field goals made (1,219). He also has the third-best mark in rebounds (1,519) and career field-goal percentage (.629).
But Laur wasn't finished playing basketball. The summer after graduating from McKendree, Laur spent a week working out with the Indiana Pacers.
"I didn't make their summer roster but I worked out with them for a week. It was a neat experience. Larry Bird was there and Isaiah Thomas was the head coach,'' Laur said. "Then I spent some time playing in Slovenia with Geoplin Slovan in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
"After that I came back to the states and played with the Columbus, Georgia., Riverdragons in the National Basketball Association Development League."
After one year of playing pro basketball, Laur began his coaching career at Steeleville where he stayed three years. In 2004-05, he led the Warriors to 28 wins and a regional title. Steeleville advanced to the sectional-title game.
Laur then moved on to the college level as an assistant at Missouri Southern University, then spent a year as the director of basketball operations at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Laur spent six years as an assistant at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and for the past three years he has been the head basketball coach and athletics director at Freeburg High School.
"We're very happy here. It's a great community and we have a very staff with a very supportive administration here at Freeburg High School,'' Laur said. "They are very welcoming to my family. My kids love it.
"The kids we have here at Freeburg are great kids. They are coachable. They work hard and I'm very excited about the program that we've started to build here."
Laur and his wife Carrie have three children, Ty, 9, Annabelle, 6, and Grady, 3.