EXCLUSIVE: Like the rest of us, Moses Moody navigates a pandemic w/eye on future

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EDITOR’S NOTE:The references to the current covid-19 pandemic made in the following story are not meant to draw comparisons to or downplay the sacrifices of those who have or will lose their lives, their loved ones who will be impacted by those losses, and the medical professionals who are in the trenches fighting to preserve and save lives. Same goes for individuals and families impacted by the devastating financial consequences of the pandemic, and other painfully significant hardships. Perspective is important. However, everybody has a story during these unprecedented times that involves varying levels of sacrifice, fear, hope, and maybe even some unexpected positive opportunities that come to light, and those stories should not be summarily minimized or dismissed. The following story is about Little Rock basketball star and future Arkansas Razorback Moses Moody, who during a weekend interview imparted some valuable insight regarding where his head is now and what’s ahead.

LITTLE ROCK — Like almost everyone else in the world who was suddenly forced to grasp a sobering and staggering covid-19 health crisis while coming to grips with significant real-time downshifts in social interaction, participation, and movement, Moses Moody is making adjustments in his life.

It would be understandable for Moody, 17, to reveal even a sliver of self-pity, but that’s not the path he’s on. Not at all. While he can acknowledge some disappointment in not capping off a brilliant high school basketball career with a national title playing on an undefeated team considered by many to be the best ever, Moody knows it’s a new world where our individual choices, even the small ones, truly impact everyone else. In places we don’t even know exist. Now more than ever.

Many powerful chapters of heroism, hope, hardship, loss, and survival will be written in this global war against an invisible enemy, so setting aside for now what matters so much to him to aid in the cause of others is just fine with Moody.

“Not being able to finish with the fairy tale ending, that’s hard but at the same time you’ve got to put it in perspective,” Moody said with a soft, genuine I’m-at-peace-with-it tone during a Saturday night interview. “There’s a lot of people losing out on a lot more than a national championship. Due to the virus, a lot of people are in a lot worse situations so you just have to put it in perspective.”

When asked about the very moment he was faced with the reality that his season had abruptly ended — from a competitor’s point of view, the sacrifices he made, the hard work, the brotherhood with teammates coming together to accomplish the ultimate goal — Moody acknowledged the emotional gut-punch from not finishing what he started. Afterall, that fairy tale ending was within sight as No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.) was looking to punctuate a 25-0 regular-season with a high school national title during the GEICO Nationals that were set to begin last week, an event that was formally cancelled on Wednesday, April 1.

“I’ve felt the letdown, just having worked this hard for this one goal,” said Moody, a 6-foot-5-and-growing guard with broad shoulders and a 7-foot-plus wingspan. “I mean the undefeated season was a smaller goal, that was something we wanted to do. But the main thing we wanted was the national championship.”

It’s funny how life’s curves and swerves prepare us for bigger things further down the road. For Moody, those lessons were coming to him before the recent pandemic, and perhaps prepared him to see this global problem and it’s affects on him and others from different vantage points.

So, let’s rewind to his move to Montverde a couple of years ago and take it from there.

Moody — currently ranked the 38th best prospect in the nation by ESPN — was already a national name in spring/summer grassroots hoops when as a sophomore at North Little Rock High School he earned 7A state championship-game MVP honors after leading the Charging Wildcats over Fort Smith Northside in the 2018 title game. Had he remained in Arkansas, Moody likely racks up pinball-game stats and possibly wins another state title.

But his and his family’s decision to move on to Montverde — an independent school known lately for being the best nationally in high school basketball as well as having a large population of international students — was about growth and enlightenment beyond the lines on the court and the cheers in the gym. At 16, he was leaving home to explore opportunities that most teenagers don’t get. And with his older brother Miles attending college in a nearby Florida town it offered not only a quick path for big brother to be there for him, but it also offered getaways for Moody’s parents, Kareem and Rona, to visit him and his brother regularly to attend games among other family activities.

Front-and-center, though, were the basketball opportunities at a school that offered daily practices against elite-level players, a national game schedule, national TV exposure throughout the season, and an almost-guaranteed annual berth into the national-championship tournament.

Moody began that journey as a junior at Montverde in 2018-19, and following a season that ended just shy of reaching the GEICO national championship game Moody enjoyed a productive spring and summer playing with Brad Beal Elite 17U on the glam Nike EYBL circuit while also taking part in several prestigious national prospect camps, including Team USA training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo.

All of it was a ramp-up for Moody’s senior season in ’19-20. In early November he committed to play his college basketball at Arkansas during a community ceremony in his hometown of Little Rock, then it was full-steam ahead on a title-winning mission at Montverde in a season during which the Eagles were never really challenged.

“Being at Montverde and just having the senior season that we did, it was definitely a great experience being used to winning, and the stuff that goes into winning,” Moody said.

Look, being a star among stars is no ticket to easy street. Yes, Montverde usually blew out teams with a contingent of fans staying after games for autographs and selfies, but being the best team the Eagles could possibly be — as Moody artfully put it “the stuff that goes into winning” — meant individuals making sacrifices for the greater good.

Because getting better as a player is not just about growing and getting stronger physically while putting in the time to improve skill, study film, and learn offenses and defenses. Growth and improvement are also about adeptly navigating the mental and emotional challenges in sports, which include buying into a system, buying into a role, and accepting that role while making sacrifices for your team when temptation to shine as an individual is tapping you on the shoulder.

Moody beautifully managed those challenges and more on a team with a handful of players projected as future NBA Draft lottery picks and/or first-rounders. The eyeball test — that is, if you were fortunate to get to see Moody play regularly — offered more testimony to Moody’s value as a young star playing with a high basketball IQ than all of the recruiting rankings, prospect star-ratings, and all-star game invites combined.

But if you need more proof, the stats back up the notion that he was unselfish while arguably being the best two-way (offense and defense) player on his team:

* Moody was third on the team in scoring (11.6 points per game), but he led Montverde guards and was second on the team in effective field goal percentage (70.8%) and led the team in free throw percentage (82.6%)

* Known as a 3-point shooter, Moody delivered making 38-of-81 for 46.9% from distance (led all guards), which is elite-level shooting efficiency.

* With mid-range and around-the-cup scoring identified as a couple of areas that Moody needed to improve, the did just that shooting a blistering 71.1% from inside the arc, which was second-best on the team while leading all guards.

* Moody’s overall field-goal shooting of 60.1% was tops among guards and third on the team.

* Moody finished with a respectable 2.2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging less than a turnover per game backed up his improvement as a ball-handler.

* On a squad with a big, physical backcourt, Moody led the way with 30 offensive rebounds.

* Defensively — and this is a part of the game where Moody has been underrated and under-appreciated — he was a reliable stopper as he had 31 steals (second among the guards), 25 deflections (second among the guards), 16 blocks (second on the team and led all backcourt players), and 4 drawn charges (led the team).

Those were impressive numbers that reveal the maturation in Moody’s game, but when asked which specific things he worked on to improve and grow, Moody redirected the growth narrative with a poignant thought about an underlying cerebral aspect of his game that can’t be measured with stats or during drills.

“Some of the things that I really improved the most on this year were a lot of intangible things,” Moody said. “Just being on the team with the depth that we had, I found out how to play a role and how to be comfortable in that role. Having to sacrifice to win games, and I feel like it worked, everybody really bought into the system and we accomplished the most that we could have. That’s a big thing that a lot of people don’t really value as much.

“There’s great players in the NBA — you don’t make it in the NBA if you’re not a great basketball player — but everybody has different roles, and that’s how they make it work. So, I feel like that was something that was really testing me going into Montverde and going into the season that we had.”

That’s next-level, big-picture thinking. The kind of stuff that will serve Moody well as he climbs the career ladder with a high ceiling in basketball. But that perspective is also serving him well now, proving the long held idea that lessons in teamwork, adversity, and competition learned in sports do apply to tests in daily real-life scenarios.

Moody is a teenager verging on becoming a young man, he’s an athlete, a competitor — all things that are testing his patience and self-discipline at a time when citizens are being asked to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

“In life, there’s going to be obstacles,” Moody said. “I feel like this is just an obstacle, and you have to find ways to make it work. It definitely changes my routine, but I’m working out around the house, being creative doing whatever I can to stay on top. Push-ups, been doing pull-ups on my pull-up bar, running up and down the stairs, ball-handling in the garage, running around the neighborhood. All types of stuff just to stay in shape.

“The biggest difference I feel with working out at home and working out in the gym is discipline. You don’t have a trainer, you don’t have anyone to push you or compete against. It’s just you. You vs. yourself.”

Moody, though, is not one to think solely or even mostly about himself. Over the past year on multiple occasions during visits back home to Little Rock, Moody volunteered his time to read to children and participate in activities as part of an inititive to promote youth literacy and reading in central Arkansas. Understanding that a large community of young students and student-athletes are looking up and paying attention to him, Moody shared some words of wisdom.

“Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t be better, and this time being at home gives you an opportunity to be better at more than just basketball,” he said. “I feel like you should definitely be working on your body. There’s a lot of stuff you can do at home to get bigger, stronger, faster. But at the same time, you don’t have to think about basketball the whole time. There’s a lot of other stuff you can do to occupy your time. So you can take this time to get better at anything.”

For many of us, increased time at home with family who we already see on a daily basis provides a mix of positives and negatives, whereas Moody has found unexpected treasure that otherwise would not have been available to him.

“I’ve really just been taking this time as relaxation time, almost just a pause because life was going so fast with school and basketball,” Moody said. “Being in a whole other state, being away, now I’m coming home and finally getting some time to spend with my family. You know, going to school in Florida and then going to college — I left home a lot earlier than anticipated — life was going so fast I never realized that without this break I wouldn’t be able to be back home before I go into the next stages of my life. So I’m just taking this opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family.”

Life as we’ve known it will break through again, sooner rather than later in the grand scheme of things, and for Moody that means taking the next step as an Arkansas Razorback playing just two-and-a-half hours away from home in Fayetteville.

Moody believes his preparation getting to this point has readied him for that next step.

“I feel like I can take a lot with me to college,” Moody said of his time at Montverde. “Just seeing the way we prepared before games, the small stuff that coach liked to do. I’m used to being around good players, elite players, picked up on a lot small things. So I just feel like in an environment like I came out of, I had no choice but to become a better player.”

Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle has sent many players to the first-round of the NBA, including several Top 3 draft-lottery picks. He believes in Moody’s long-term future as a college player and a pro.

“Moses is a great person, student, and shooter,” Boyle said. “He is starting to become an excellent all-around player and will be a future (NBA) first-round pick. He is automatic from beyond the NBA three. He has added the ability to use screens to get quick threes and the step-back jumper to get space in either direction.”

Moody — projected by several NBA mock drafts to be a first-round selection in 2021 or 2022 — is the headliner in a Razorbacks recruiting class ranked No. 7 nationally with four in-state pledges each ranked among the national Top 100 prospects. It’s a tight-knit group — Moody, Khalen “KK” Robinson (6-1 guard, Bryant, Oak Hill Academy), Jaylin Williams (6-10 forward / center, Fort Smith Northside), and Davonte “Devo” Davis (6-4 point guard, Jacksonville) — that has maintained contact with each other as the spring singing period is fast-approaching (April 15-August 1).

“Just coming home with not as much to do really gives you time to prepare, time that we weren’t expecting to have,” Moody said. “But we’ve been able to talk amongst ourselves and really just feel each other out, like where your heads at going into the next year with something that’s going to be different for all of us. So we’re obviously working to get on the same page.”

Moody has also stayed in touch and in tune with first-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman and his staff.

“It’s all pretty much the same,” Moody said of the two-way communication with his future coaches. “Staying in touch, trying to maintain the relationships, just letting me know that I’m on their mind.”

Moody found plenty to like about Arkansas’s 20-12 finish in 2019-20.

“One of the things that I paid attention to that really attracted me about the Razorback team this year was the brotherhood I saw out there,” Moody said. “I just saw this sense of togetherness, almost being like us-against-the-world. Them playing together, them playing free, and working together to get the ultimate accomplishment of a win. I could tell whenever they made a mistake, they weren’t looking over at Coach (Musselman). He gave them the freedom to play basketball.”

Freedom and time. Two powerful concepts, especially when considered within the context of a pandemic that has created significant movement and participation limitations while the march of time moves forward. With the freedom to choose Moody is handling the social-distancing expectations responsibly, and instead of treating time as a linear thing keeping pace with him, he sees the value in circling back to appreciate those who recently came before him as Razorbacks to help pave the way for him to write new chapters.

“I want to wish Mason Jones some good luck moving on to further his career, and I want to wish Jalen Harris good luck in the future, too,” he said in bow-tying wrap up to a Saturday night chat.

Normalcy will prevail and the ball will go back up in the air, and when that time comes Moses Moody will be ready for anything.

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