By being the first Maverick ever to sign the NBA’s new two-way contract –meaning the player will have a designated roster spot to split his time between the NBA team and their G League affiliate– Johnathan Motley had already put his name in the record books.
But those books are of the bookkeeping sort and that’s not the plan for Motley, who was signed by Dallas two days after the NBA Draft to be the club’s first ever two-way player.
That the former Baylor Bear was even available after the draft was a surprise. If not for a torn meniscus, Motley likely would have been a first round selection. The Mavericks aren’t complaining.
“It eased my mind to get the call from the Mavericks,” says the 6-foot-9, 240 pound 22-year old. “Everything ended up alright and I’m just going to take advantage of my opportunity.”
Motley puts the power in power forward, averaging 9.9 rebounds to go along with 17.3 points in his junior season. Named the first consensus All-American in Baylor basketball history, Motley selflessly credits the ones who came before him.
“I had (Atlanta Hawks forward) Taurean (Prince) and (Dallas Cowboys tight end) Rico (Gathers) in front of me, I just had to find minutes where I could. Then when those guys are gone I put it on myself to take advantage of it. Really it was just minutes.”
When the minutes –and the opportunity– came, Motley took advantage big time. If you’ll excuse another horrible pun, he put the big in Big 12. He’s a bruiser, no doubt about it. He also shot 70 percent from the free throw line on over five attempts a game, an almost foreign attribute for today’s big man.
Three Baylor big men (Prince, Gathers and Cory Jefferson) before him have all moved on to professional athletic careers. I say athletic and not basketball because Gathers is playing football for the Dallas Cowboys. Motley laughs with endearment recollecting his mentors.
“I had the best of almost every world. I had Isaiah Austin who’s a skills guy. Rico was a bruiser. Taurean was a pick and pop guy. Cory Jefferson who was an athlete who could catch lobs and run the floor. I had the best of every world. I had no choice but to get better every day or I was gonna get killed in practice.”
A minutes restriction limited his presence in the NBA Summer League, but when Motley got to play, the Mavericks organization was extremely impressed. In the Orlando finale, the big man got extended run and posted an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double.
Oh yeah, also this. He won Dallas its first ever Summer League title with a mid-range jumper at 0.3 seconds. A week later, he hit a literal buzzer-beater from half-court. He’s found a hobby that will surely put him in the team’s good graces.
Getting to play a lot in the finale, he showed without a doubt the talent he has to give to the game of basketball. “It was a great experience, I had a lot of fun. They had me on a minutes restriction (before) so I couldn’t really play that much. We had so many guys that had to play a lot so I think I just did a good job to show what I got.”
The frustrations of the knee troubles weren’t going to hold him back. “It definitely eased my mind with the injury. After the season I had at Baylor, I picked up where I left off.”
Back in 2012, the Houston native was finishing up a decorated career for North Shore High School. Motley helped the Mustangs to back-to-back district championships, all the while posting a 62-9 record in his junior and senior years.
A no-doubt top recruit, he chose nearby Waco as his next home. “I really liked the family environment. I got real close to a lot of those guys throughout high school and I just knew that was the place for me.”
Part of playing for Baylor, a program that has also produced NBA players and names Legends fans will surely know –Pierre Jackson and Quincy Acy– is playing for Head Coach Scott Drew. “He’s a great guy, a great coach. He always checked on everything, made sure we’re okay and was always doing things to make sure we’re steady. He’s a great guy, he really cared about me. I really respect him for that.”
In his junior season for the Bears, Motley was recognized as the nation’s top power forward with the prestigious Karl Malone Award. He deflects the credit off of himself and to his teammates. “It was really special. Especially because the field was so deep, there were a lot of talented guys up for the award. I think I had a pretty great season, but my team had a great season which may have propelled me over some of the guys.”
Winning the award also granted him a face-to-face with the Hall of Famer it’s named after. “It was definitely special meeting Karl Malone. He told me to call him if I ever needed any advice. That’s a great guy to have in your corner.”
The historic season also saw Motley and his squad achieve the first number one national ranking in Baylor basketball history. The star forward will always carry this with him. “It definitely means a lot. This past season was very special. I made a lot of history myself, doing things guys haven’t ever done. As a team we did things that no one has ever done. It was a special season.”
Sadly, a picture perfect season came crashing down in the finale. In a Sweet 16 loss to South Carolina, the projected first-rounder tore his meniscus. “It was tough. Especially in the last game. It was a tough time. Going through the process I didn’t think it would be a big deal at first. Things happen, I just gotta find a way to bounce back and handle my business.”
Despite the unfortunate turn of events that included his name being absent from the NBA Draft festivities, it took little time for Motley to ink a deal. Not just a Summer League nod or a training camp invite, but a guaranteed spot in the NBA. “It means the world to me that the Mavs saw something in me. I think I have a really good chance, a great opportunity to be here. I just want to take advantage of my opportunity because I think I’m in a great, great spot right now. The Mavs guys like me, they all want me to get better. I’m really looking forward to the season and showing those guys they weren’t wrong on taking me.”
Before he even plays an NBA or G League game, the incoming rookie has a lot of peers to consult: Jackson, Acy, Austin, Jefferson, Prince and even the football playing Gathers can offer him advice. Oh yeah, he’s also got Malone. “They all basically told me to take advantage of my opportunities. Taurean took really great advantage of his. He played in the D-League a bit and then started in the playoffs. He basically told me the season is long, injuries happen and you just gotta be ready because your time is gonna come. You just gotta be ready.”
As previously noted, Jackson and Acy have both not only trekked down this path, but have taken the road through Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, a road soon to be traveled by Motley as well. Among all the fans chomping at the bit to see him play, there’s a big contingent of Baylor fans waiting for him in the DFW metroplex and Motley is aware. “Oh yeah, for sure. There’s a lot of Baylor fans who live here. It’s gonna be good to be close to the people and be able to show off for them again.”
To the Texas Legends, I expect to see a crew dubbed the “Motley Crew” sometime this year. You, me, the fans and the Dallas Mavericks organization are believers and part of the band. Johnathan Motley is now performing.