Erin Mathias has sipped Starbucks coffee with Mike Krzyzewski. She has rubbed elbows with Duke basketball greats, past and present. And she has even deconstructed a jacket for Beyonce while serving as fashion design intern in New York City. “I don’t regret for one second coming to school here,” said Mathias, who committed to the Durham, N.C.-based university when she was a freshman at Fox Chapel. “It was the best decision I could have made.” In two days, Mathias will step onto the court at Petersen Events Center to face hometown Pitt for the final time in Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-4 senior center will lead an 18th-ranked Blue Devils team (15-5 entering Thursday’s game against Boston College) that aspires to surpass its run to the Sweet 16 in 2015. “I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to my hometown and showing my newer teammates what a great city it is,” said Mathias, who was recruited by the Panthers. “I like to brag about Pittsburgh, and I’m excited about coming back and seeing my friends and family at the game.” At Duke, Mathias is one of those do-what-is-asked-of-her players. Need a big rebound? She’ll get it. A blocked shot? She has 24 of them. A mid-range jumper? She hits them regularly, averaging a career-best 9.6 points per game. Confident and consistent, Mathias has scored in double digits eight times, including 24 against UNC Greensboro and 13 at rival North Carolina last Sunday. Twice she has reached double figures in rebounding and, on seven occasions, she has blocked two or more shots. A picture of perseverance, Mathias waited patiently until moving into a starter’s role in this, her final season. Not that it was always easy for this former Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year. “At times, it was frustrating because I was the star in high school,” said Mathias, who scored 1,088 career points at Fox Chapel and was a 2014 Post-Gazette Fab 5 selection. “But I was playing behind some great post players, which allowed me to grow and improve.” As any college basketball aficionado knows, Duke puts the blue in basketball bluebloods. Former men’s greats such as Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier or Danny Ferry can show up on a given day. A couple months back, it was Kyrie Irving’s turn to make the rounds. Mathias said she missed out on seeing the Boston Celtics star, but was quick to send a message his way. “He promised he’d get us some shoes,” she said, laughing. “We’re still waiting on them … hopefully they’ll come soon.” The brains behind the Blue Devils basketball operation, five-time national championship men’s coach Krzyzewski, once shared an elevator ride with Mathias, each with a Starbucks cup in hand. The conversation quickly turned to all things Java. “We were just talking about coffee, a regular conversation you’d have with anyone else,” said Mathias, a freshman when the men won a national title in 2015. “It’s pretty cool getting to be in the presence of a legend. A lot of greatness has come through Cameron [Indoor Stadium]. Just being around it, I believe, helps all of us as basketball players.” While basketball is a central part of her collegiate experience, Mathias plans to focus on runways, not rebounds, after graduation. A budding fashion designer who specializes in unisex apparel, she debuted her cutting-edge collection at a runway show on campus this past September. Hard metal (a nod to her Steel City roots), chains, denim, leather and painted bottlecaps adorned her models, many of whom double as her Duke teammates. At her on-campus apartment, Mathias spends much of her time in front of her Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine, purchased her sophomore year. It was there that she made one of her favorite pieces — an olive green dress featuring chain straps (bought at Home Depot) and hand-painted bottlecaps in the front. The dress was a hit at the Blue Devils’ team banquet in April. “I got a lot of compliments,” she said. “When you put a lot of creativity into something, it’s nice to be noticed.” In one of her more memorable moments, Mathias received an email from Beyonce’s assistant while interning for designer Charles Harbison in New York City two summers ago. Beyonce wanted a jacket deconstructed and returned to her later in the day. Problem was, Harbison was in Los Angeles. That meant Mathias would have to handle the request alone. Undaunted, she went to work. She took a subway from the Financial District to the Garment District and purchased fabric. She then rode back to lower Manhattan, switched out the buttons, made some alterations and delivered the jacket to Beyonce’s assistant in SoHo. In a span three hours. “I was a little nervous,” said Mathias, who reported that Beyonce opted for a different outfit for that night’s CFDA show. “It was just me. … It was a bummer she didn’t wear it, but it was still a cool experience.” Sort of like her time at Duke. “I consider myself lucky,” Mathias said. “This is an exciting time, for sure.”
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