When Jackson Moffatt and the rest of the Baylor basketball team departed for the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City earlier this month, the world was a different place.
About 48 hours later, the Bears returned home after the coronavirus pandemic canceled not only the Big 12 Tournament, but the NCAA Tournament as well.
It was a sad and abrupt ending for a team that had so much talent and such a big opportunity. March Madness became March Sadness for a program that went 26-4, won a Big 12-record 23 straight games at one point, and spent several weeks as the No. 1 team in the country.
Moffatt, a 2018 Magnolia High School graduate, is a second-year member of the team.
“This year was unbelievable,” Moffatt said in a phone interview from his home in Magnolia on Friday morning. “I think all of us expected to be a really good team. But I don’t think it would be fair to say we expected to hold the No. 1 ranking for five weeks. It was just really cool because I feel like we used the platform that God gave us in those times to really point all the glory back to him. God just kept allowing us to hold that platform.”
Instead of the Bears preparing for the Sweet 16 and perhaps the Elite Eight this weekend, Moffatt, like the rest of the NCAA athletics world, is in a holding pattern.
A love for Baylor
Moffatt’s grandfather, mother and an uncle all went to Baylor. Moffatt thought he might want to attend school there as well, but he also had other options to play basketball in college.
“I took a lot of visits to the northeast to a lot of Ivy League schools and Patriot League schools,” Moffatt said. “I had some opportunities up there. But I really love Texas, and I wanted to stay close to home. Whenever I visited Baylor, I just saw how Coach (Scott) Drew runs his program and keeps Jesus Christ in the center of it. I just fell in love with it.”
Moffatt accepted a preferred walk-on offer and joined the Bears for the 2018-19 season as a redshirt freshman. Baylor went 20-14 and reached the NCAA Tournament before losing to Gonzaga in the Round of 32.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” Moffatt said. “I got to redshirt and got to develop as a player. But I also got to travel and experience away games. I got to do everything except play. It was definitely a blessing.”
Baylor associate coach Jerome Tang played a pivotal role in his adjustment to the college game. Tang worked with Moffatt on game days to keep him stimulated and keep his skills toned.
Moffatt, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward made his collegiate debut on Nov. 5 against Central Arkansas. He only played in seven games this season, logging 12 minutes, seven shot attempts without a make, one rebound and one steal. He appeared in two Big 12 games, including at Kansas State where Moffatt made an effective baseline drive, but his 15-foot jumper didn’t land.
“I really had so much fun getting out there even though it was in two-minute spurts,” Moffatt said. “It’s hard in the position I was in and for a lot of guys who have done it can say the same thing. You sit there for two hours, and then it’s time for you to go in for two minutes.”
The college game in general has been a huge adjustment. It isn’t anything like playing District 20-5A ball like he did with Magnolia. While with the Bulldogs, first playing for Danny Randall and then Derek Cain, Moffatt scored a school-record 2,066 points. That includes a single-game record 45 points.
“Guys are bigger, faster, stronger and can jump higher,” Moffatt said. “The physicality on defense - if I make a move on a guy and get by him, I’m going to get bumped. I’m not just going to get a free lane to the rim. Just the speed of the game - if I get an open look from the 3-point line and I don’t catch it and get it off, it’s going to be heavily-contested or blocked.”
Baylor’s season was a complete thrill ride, led by third-team AP All-America sophomore Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Freddie Gillespie, Mark Vital and Davion Mitchell.
“It was probably the most fun basketball team I’ve ever been on,” Moffatt said. “We’re winning games, and then off the court, everybody genuinely enjoyed each other. The games were fun, the practices were fun, the team meals were fun. It was such a blessing of a season.”
Although Moffatt didn’t play much, he was there for his teammates and provided a spark of enthusiasm.
“My role this year was definitely to be an encourager,” Moffatt said. “It was a blast. I can’t complain about the season that we had and how I got to cheer for really good things on the floor and all the games that we won.”
“Joy” was a word frequently used.
“The coolest thing to see out there was just how much joy we played with,” Moffatt said. “We always talked about joy in the locker room. J.O.Y. stands for ‘Jesus, Others and then Yourself.’ On the basketball court, that translates into guys making the extra pass.”
Baylor flew out to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament ready and excited.
Moffatt described everything as fairly routine. Get off the plane. Go to practice. Go eat.
But during that day, the NCAA announced the next week’s tournament would be played without spectators. A few minutes after that, Baylor informed its students that classes for the next two weeks would be held online.
Moffatt and the No. 2-seed Bears were in the Sprint Center on Wednesday night watching Thursday's opponent go at it. Baylor was scheduled to play the winner of Kansas State and TCU at 6 p.m. the following night.
It was during that game that the wheels really started coming in regard to the coronavirus pandemic and the national sports scene. The NBA announced that it would be suspending the season after Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
“When the NBA suspended their season, in my mind, this isn’t good for our game,” Moffatt said.
The Big 12 Tournament was still on as Moffatt went to bed that night. Baylor was set to play Kansas State less than 24 hours later after the Wildcats prevailed in their opening game.
“It was kind of an eerie feeling,” Moffatt said. “Because I think everybody knew what was about to happen. Then after breakfast, we didn’t even get to shoot around before Coach Drew called us to the meeting room and told us that the tournament had been canceled, which was crushing because we felt like we probably had the best week of practice of the season leading up to the Big 12 Tournament.”
The players returned to their hotel room to await their flight back to Waco. It was during that time period that the NCAA Tournament was canceled altogether.
“That was just so depressing,” Moffatt said. “We went to the meeting room, and we kind of had our way-too-soon thank you to the seniors, and we all talked about how we appreciated them and the coaching staff. It was sad. God gave us such a platform for the whole season. Obviously, God is going to work something even greater out of this situation.”
Back home in Magnolia
Moffatt is currently at home with his father, Travis; mother, Cammi; and younger sister, Marissa, a senior student-athlete at Magnolia High School.
Moffatt said his family came to 99 percent of the games in Waco, and his high school coach Cain and assistant coach Cameron Frank were able to come and observe a practice.
For now, Moffatt has a hoop in his driveway to shoot on, and a nearby friend has a small weight room he can use.
The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament was an abrupt ending for the Bears, but Moffatt is focused on the future. It’s unclear what his role will be moving forward at Baylor, but Moffatt is working hard to become a contributor.
“That’s my dream is to be able to help Coach Drew win,” Moffatt said. “I’m going to do everything I can and work as hard as I can to achieve that. It’s just about me being able to help the team win. If I can’t go out there and help us win, then I don’t want to play. I want to be able to go out there and help the team achieve our goals.”
Off the court, Moffatt is a health science major. One day, Moffatt either wants to be an optometrist like his father or become an ophthalmologist, which would require medical school and a residency.
Moffatt joined his father on mission trips when he was younger. A particular trip to Guatemala gave Moffatt some perspective.
“It was such a cool experience,” he said. “People that never had an eye exam before. Eyeglasses completely change their lives.”