By Emilie Fogleman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
March Madness is known for its inspiring stories, historic runs and legendary players. In 2012, the Baylor men’s basketball team had reached its second Elite Eight in three years behind the impressive post play of Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller. Little did they know that their play inspired the future of the men’s basketball program.
“Baylor was always a school that I wanted to come to because it is close to home. I remember when I decided to come play here I was at an AAU tournament watching them play in the NCAA tournament,” redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley said. “That’s when they had Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and all those big guys. That’s when I decided where I was going to play college basketball.”
Motley, a 6-9 forward from Houston, Texas, was a standout player at North Shore High School. Averaging 17.3 points and 10.9 rebounds his senior season, Motley earned his second District 21 MVP award and 2013 TABC Class 5A All-State recognition. When he set foot on campus in fall 2013, Motley was presented with a challenge from head coach Scott Drew: redshirting to retain eligibility.
“It was really tough because I thought that I was going to come in and play because Cory (Jefferson) and Isaiah (Austin) were going to go to the NBA. I thought I was going to get some quality minutes, but everything happens for a reason,” Motley said. “Both of those guys came back and I learned a lot from them. Cory helped me with my back to the basket game while Isaiah helped me with my face-up game. I’m glad that I got a chance to learn from those guys.”
It would’ve been easy for Motley to let waiting a year to play college basketball get him down, but he was eager to learn. Jefferson and Austin took him under their (rather long) wings and introduced him to what he’d face next season after they left.
“There’s no question going up against those guys last year was a huge benefit. Competing against not only their size and length, but they were good guys who talked with him and helped him like big brothers,” head coach Scott Drew said. “He was able to gain a lot of confidence from that, and they’re his biggest fans. When he does well they’re excited.”
There was no better person to learn about the physicality of the college game than current teammate Rico Gathers. Gathers, described as a “bruising power forward” at 275 pounds, was more than happy to toss Motley around on the practice court.
“Rico is a very physical player, so when I first got here he was throwing me around. I was very light. I think I came in around 210 pounds so he just tossed me around,” Motley said. “It was one of those things that I had to get used to. Rico helped me get used to the physical side of the game. Once I started putting a little weight on I began to handle it a little better.”
Motley made getting bigger and stronger a priority during the offseason, gaining 20 pounds. This season, he has worked his way into the starting lineup by being a threat to opposing teams on offense and defense. Motley ranks 4th in the Big 12 in blocks, averaging 1.7 a game while shooting 42 percent from the floor.
“I’ve always been skilled, but having the extra bodyweight so people won’t push me around has made my shot a little easier,” Motley said. “When I was lighter I had to work harder for my shot. Now I can easily make moves against defenders to get open.”
But like every freshman, there’s still a lot of learning to do and lots of games still to be played. Drew looks forward to seeing Motley gain confidence and advance his game.
“He’s still learning, but it reflects from who we are playing which is the best in the nation. If you’re going to struggle, it will be against the best players and the best teams. He’s getting better and better as he gains experience,” Drew said. “You go through confidence spells when you have a great game rather than when you don’t play well. We have confidence in him to play well, and hopefully he will do more of that.”
Finally getting his time on the court has been a blessing, but Motley just loves getting to play, even when the times get rough. When you love the game like he does, having fun is easy.
“It’s been fun getting to play, ultimately. This game is about having fun. If you’re not having fun then you won’t play your best,” Motley said. “I just try to have fun as much as I can because I do better. Whenever I face a tough game, I just have to remind myself to have fun and everything will work out on its own.”