It's Worth the Hustle - Word&Way

It’s Worth the Hustle

Matt Mooney
Matt Mooney

Matt Mooney(13), a former Texas Tech standout, now plays for the Memphis Hustle.

Head to toe, the message was a slam dunk. Going into a Minneapolis, Minnesota, gym for practice with his Texas Tech teammates before the 2019 Final Four, Matt Mooney saw a Bible verse that spoke to him — again. Written on the back of a lacrosse player’s helmet was Joshua 1:9.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Two days before the Final Four, Doug Adams, the director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the University of South Dakota who introduced Mooney to faith, had shared the verse with him. That week through social media, a woman had messaged Mooney the verse. His devotional verse the day before Texas Tech played Michigan State in the national semifinals was Joshua 1:9.

“Four different times within four days, it was like God is trying to say something to me before the Final Four game,” said Mooney, who wrote the “great” verse on his game shoes during the tournament. “I was thinking on that verse the whole game. ‘All right, it’s time. It’s a big stage but don’t be afraid. Go Take it. Take courage.’ I ended up having a good game and we got the win.”

Mooney, a Texas Tech point guard, scored a team-high 22 points, including four three-pointers, against the Spartans in a 61-51 victory. During a national TV interview after the game, Mooney gave glory to God.

That is not the only verse Mooney, now playing for the Memphis Grizzlies’ G-League (Developmental) team Memphis Hustle, has used as an assist. After getting his Bachelor’s degree in May 2018 from South Dakota, Mooney had a choice to make for his fifth year as a graduate transfer. Still trying to make up his mind, his pastor at the South Dakota church he attended shared with him Deuteronomy 31:8 and said, “No matter what you decide keep that verse in mind.” It became Mooney’s favorite verse, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

“It gave me peace, knowing wherever I decide to go in life and even my fifth year of college, the Lord is going to be with me. He has already gone before me. He has paved the way for me,” said Mooney.

Paving the way to NBA, Mooney has faced unknowns trying to get there and to stay there.

“You have got to trust in the Lord that he’s got a plan,” said Mooney.

After the Red Raiders lost the national championship game to Virginia in overtime, 85-77, Mooney went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft. He was on the Atlanta Hawks’ Summer League roster before being signed by the Grizzlies. They waived him in October and put him on the Hustle roster. Through mid-December, he had averaged 12.7 points, 4 rebounds, 4.5 assists. He scored a G-League career-high 23 points on Dec. 12.

Guiding Faith

In his personal life and on the court, Mooney has learned that God has “me here for a reason and he has a purpose for my life.”

“That is something that I am trying to learn and work at each day. I know God has a great plan for me. I trust in him. His purpose for me is to glorify him playing the game,” Mooney added. “Without God, I am not here. None of this is possible without him. He gave me the ability to play basketball. He gave me the gift, the passion for the game.”

Mooney’s faith is what is most important to him.

“Ball is going to stop bouncing. I can’t take the game of basketball with me to eternity. The only thing that is eternal is God and Jesus. I realized that years ago. When I started really focusing on my faith, I realized no matter how I played, good or bad, God still loved me and I still had my salvation intact,” said Mooney.

With that in mind he began to play freer and with peace.

“That is what happens when you start believing in Jesus, He gives you freedom. It has helped me with all areas of my life. Basketball is what I do for my living so it helps me with that, too,” Mooney said. “Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Without him coming to die for our sins, I wouldn’t have hope. I wouldn’t have freedom. I wouldn’t have eternal life.”

With his mother, Angela, “a firm believer,” Mooney became aware of Christianity at an early age, but it wasn’t until he went to South Dakota when his faith began to strengthen. With Adams taking him under his wings, Mooney listened as Adams talked about the gospel and showed him what it meant to be a Christian and to have a relationship with the Lord instead of just following religious tradition.

“It changed my life. Ever since then I have been striving to be a better Christian. I struggle and fail all the time but it’s that constant striving to be more like Christ every day,” said Mooney, who has had “some really good influences” in his life.

He wants to influence teammates, youth through camps, and a possible foundation that he has been praying about starting. He has thought about starting a Bible study with teammates. Mooney also wants to learn more of the Bible, which he reads daily. He wants to understand deeper where Scripture came from, who wrote each book, why it was written, and when.

“That helps strengthen my faith and beliefs,” he said. “I know Jesus is truth but I want to know about it so I can help other people because it is the real deal.”

He wants teammates to know that he is a Christian by how he lives, by his actions.

“That shows people you really are a Christian,” said Mooney, whose spiritual goals are to grow through prayer and study of the word. He wants to find a church that facilitates growth and has attended churches in Memphis while playing for the Hustle.

From Wauconda, Illinois, north of Chicago, Mooney was an all-state and allconference high school career at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois, and graduated summa cum laude. He then spent his freshman collegiate year at Air Force Academy.

“It was a really hard time for me. I wasn’t very happy there, but it tested me mentally and physically. I decided to transfer. That was a big turning point, something new,” he explained. “At South Dakota I couldn’t play the first season. I had to stick with the grind every day knowing I had to wait over a year to play. Obviously, another turning point was going from college to the real world.”

Ending his career with Texas Tech in the national championship was a dream come true and his biggest thrill in basketball. He had dreamed of playing in the NCAA tournament his whole life, especially playing in the Final Four.

“For it to actually happen is something I’ll never forget and my family and people there watching. It was an amazing experience. It was a magical experience,” he said.

Hustle teammate Dusty Hannahs, who played at Texas Tech before transferring to Arkansas, shared a bond with Mooney.

“I told him I only watch Texas Tech and Arkansas games. We have a little of the same background. It’s cool to talk about and know some of the same people. He is a really good player. He has helped our team. He had a great college career, a great last year of college bringing Tech to the championship. I look forward to helping him with his game as he starts his professional endeavor,” said Hannahs.

Not only in basketball but Hannahs has seen Mooney confidence and strength “in everything.”

“Matt is strong-willed. You can tell he is very strong in his faith. He has helped me. Matt has talked to me. We’ve had good conversations. I feel like everyone could work on getting their faith stronger and become a better Christian,” Hannahs said. “He is very strong in the word. He is a very good guy for me to absorb what he is saying and his outlook on Christianity. For me to have an influence like him around is very positive. I am working to be a better Christian and to be around someone like Matt helps me.”

Hustle coach Jason March said of Mooney, “He has played a lot of basketball. He is not a one-and-done guy. He is very solid, very mature. He knows his game very well. He knows how to play with our group.”

March called Mooney’s faith “very evident, how he handles himself, how he prepares himself. I think other guys see that too. I’m proud of him being who he is. I love that about him.”

Mooney said that if he ever has children, something he would want to teach them is to love one another.

“That is the most important thing,” he said.

His father, Mike, the president of the North American division of a German aluminum company, was diagnosed in 2018 with Stage 3 colon cancer. He still has treatments to go but “he is hanging in there,” said Matt. That has been part of the faith challenge for Matt.

“It’s been challenged a lot. There are a lot of highs and lows. Even last year, there were lows when we played bad on the national stage. You put so much into a game. You want to play well. You want to perform and you want to play in the pros. I had a strength when I played really bad and it brings you to some dark places,” he said. “That is where your faith, my parents splitting up, my dad has cancer. You have to rely on your faith because life is not going to be easy, but with the Lord you can get through any situation.”  

Written by

Bill Sorrell is pastor of First Baptist Church in Whiteville. TN. He writes the “Keeping The Faith” column for Lindy's Sports magazine and writes for various Baptist publications.