‘J-Mot’ on the Spot: Motley contributes to mid-season surge

Sophomore forward Johnathan Motley pulls up a jumpshot during the Bears’ game against Texas on Feb. 1, at the Ferrell Center. Photo credit: Richard Hirst

Sophomore forward Johnathan Motley, the Bears’ go-to sixth man this season, has made his mark in the thick of the Big 12 conference schedule. At 6-foot-9, Motley averages 11.4 points off the bench.

His effect on the court is showing lately, but it took years of hard work and dedication to get to where he is at today.

“My sister inspired me to play. She is 18 years older than me and played before me, so that is how I got into it,” Motley said. “I think she was all-state back in her day.”

Growing up with a mentor, Motley aimed to be the best he could be and continues being determined to improve in all areas of his game as he ventures through the college level.

“I can always get better at rebounding and being a little bit more physical,” Motley said. “And on the defensive end, I can improve and block a few more shots.”

College scouts attending games at North Shore High School noticed the Houston native while playing under coach David Greene.

While there, Motley led his team to back-to-back 5A District 21 Championships and was named District 21 MVP in both his junior and senior seasons.

Although he has faced competitors at all levels, he believes it is the college level that is going to get him headed in the right direction because of how physical play is and the quality of talent on each team.

“Some games in high school, you would play against one or two good players and then not see a good player for a while. But in college, you face elite competition every day, especially being in the Big 12,” Motley said.

Coming in as a true freshman, Motley learned from and competed in practice against some of the best on the team, which included Cory Jefferson, who is now in the NBA, and Isaiah Austin.

It appeared that the tough practices and experience he gained from sitting out his first year started to transpire on the court as he started to see minutes.

Starting in all 34 games as a redshirt freshman, Motley averaged 7.7 points and 4.2 rebounds and finished sixth in the Big 12 with 46 blocks.

While anticipating having the same role, his sophomore year began a bit differently. Instead of starting, he had to overcome coming off the bench. And while this change in pace may have messed with some players’ minds, Motley remained focused and gained some enjoyment from the situation.

“I actually kind of like it coming off the bench because I can feel the game out, see how the team is playing, see what their defense is doing,” Motley said. “It helps me get a better feel for the game.”

Coming off the bench, Motley and sophomore forward Terry Maston combine to average 18.1 points per game, which accounts for 67 percent of the Bears’ points off the bench. Although starting last season, Motley’s numbers have continued to rise as his field goal percentage has gone up by 22 percent.

While Motley is producing the numbers, the coaching staff and his fellow teammates know the potential Motley is possible of producing, and they know there is more still to be unleashed.

“Motley is just a freak; he’s a good athlete. He can score on the low block; he’s just a beast,” said freshman guard King McClure. He understands his role and knows everybody plays a role on the team, and he’s figured out his. He really doesn’t focus on starting or scoring. He really focuses on winning, and that’s what I like about him so much. He wants to win just like everybody on the team.”

“He definitely is one of those players that you can see that is going to be really, really, really special, but he just hasn’t tapped into it yet. He’s started to realize it, but he, like everybody, has so much room to grow. I feel like once he really taps into it 100 percent, he will be really special.”

Late nights at the gym and putting in extra work during practice appear to be paying off as Motley leads the Big 12 in field goal percentages at .640.

“He does all these things behind closed doors, and you just get to see him when the lights are bright,” head coach Scott Drew said. “We’ve expected nothing less from Johnathan. He does a good job of coming in the gym on his own and coming to practice to work hard. When he displays it out here, it’s nothing new to us.”

While Drew praises Motley for the player he has become, it is Motley that looks to Drew as a role model.

“Coach Drew is an awesome guy,” Motley said. “Aside from basketball, he makes sure we become better men, and I think that is how it sets him aside from other coaches. Because when this basketball thing is all done, he is going to be around helping you, making sure you grow into a better man, husband and father aside from basketball.”

At the end of the day, there is still so much for the young player to learn, and while he realizes that, it does not keep him from aiming at higher goals.

“My coaches always tell me to take it one game at a time, so I try to stay in that mindset,” Motley said. “But every now and then I do think about the NBA. I mean, what player wouldn’t? That’s the ultimate goal. If God lets me get there, then I will take advantage.”

“I think there is still more to come,” Motley said. “I’m just waiting my time and getting better every day.”