The NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida has been a great success since July 30th, where 22 teams were sent to compete for a long-overdue championship.  We have reached the Conference Finals and there has yet to be a positive COVID test within the bubble.  Players have been able to ease back into shape and build chemistry once again with their teammates.  However, the teams that were not invited to the bubble have had to do that in a different way.  Those teams include the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I caught up with former USD Coyote/Texas Tech Red Raider and current Cleveland Cavaliers two-way player, Matt Mooney on what life has been for him individually as well as how the Cleveland Cavaliers organization is keeping tabs outside of the NBA bubble.

After spending time with the Memphis Grizzlies and their G-League affiliate, Memphis Hustle, Matt Mooney was signed to a two-way contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 15th.  With this contract, Mooney is allowed 45 days with the Cavs and spends the rest of the time developing with their G-League affiliate, the Canton Charge.

When given the opportunity, Mooney made the most of his limited minutes he got with the Cavs.  In a January 20th matchup with the New York Knicks, the former Coyote scored his first NBA bucket on a midrange floater over Knicks shot-blocker, Mitchell Robinson.  In his three minutes played that game, Mooney recorded a very productive 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 block stat line.  Very solid in the time he was given.

Like everyone, Mooney and the Cavaliers were caught off guard by the coronavirus as it struck in early March.  As a young team that was trying to finish strong and build momentum going into next season, the virus put a halt to that as the NBA season was cut short.

I asked Matt what types of activities he as an individual picked up during quarantine, and his answer is more than likely different than yours and mine.  Instead of binge-watching a TV show or trying to learn the piano, Mooney is currently developing a basketball training product.  Although he couldn’t go into much detail regarding the product, I’m excited to see what the Cavs guard will cook up for developing players.

As a mid-major player for three years with USD, Mooney never thought he would get an opportunity to suit up for an NBA team.  I asked Matt what his “wow, I’m really here” moment was in the NBA, and he told me a pretty cool story from the Knicks game.  “When I scored my first bucket, Tristan Thompson came up to me after the game and asked if that was my first NBA points, and he actually gave me the game ball.”  

The Cavaliers will be going into the season with J.B. Bickerstaff running the show after taking over for John Beilein after he resigned midway through the season.  Bickerstaff has had his stints around the league as an assistant and interim coach with Charlotte, Minnesota, Houston, Memphis (head coach 2017-2019), and now Cleveland where he will have his second opportunity as an NBA head coach.  This will be Bickerstaff’s first off-season as the set in stone head coach and Mooney is excited for a chance to play for him.  “So far so good.  All the guys respect him and like playing for him.  I’m excited to hopefully get a chance to play for him,” states Mooney.  

Players and teams outside the bubble are at a disadvantage in terms of not formally being around each other and are having to keep in shape on their own.  I asked Matt about the process and how the Cavaliers are keeping in tabs with each other.  “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were doing virtual Zoom workouts that involved yoga, weight lifting, and in-home workouts.  With the guards, we had the option to do virtual ball-handling workouts with the coaches, but other than that you are pretty much on your own,” says Mooney.  The Cavs’ guard has been traveling to Cleveland off and on for individual workouts and has just arrived recently to do a mini training camp with the team.  Virtual meetings have been the go-to form of communication for the Cavs as they try to build chemistry going into next season.

The final question I asked Mooney was based around the trend of mid-major players testing their skills and transferring to bigger schools as Matt did from USD to Texas Tech, and as former SDSU standout, David Jenkins Jr. did transfer to UNLV last season.  After an incredible 2019 Final Four run, Mooney caught the eye of pro scouts and may not have gotten a chance in the league if that didn’t happen.  From being a star for the Coyotes in the Summit League to being a star All-Conference player for Texas Tech in the BIG12, Mooney had to prove he could compete at any level.  I asked if he believed if he started the mid-major to Power 5 transfer trend going on around the country right now due to him succeeding at the big-time Division 1 level.  “I definitely think I had an influence on some people, I don’t know if I started the trend or not since there were guys doing it before me.  When I came out to transfer, everybody was telling me not to and were showing me all these guys that transferred up and didn’t play and were unsuccessful.  Just the fact that I was able to be a part of a winning team that played in the championship game and got exposure, I think that probably inspired more guys to want to do that,” explains Mooney.  

Matt Mooney continues to put South Dakota basketball on the map and make us proud as he lives his dream in the NBA.  With COVID-19 making it difficult for teams and players outside of the Orlando bubble to build chemistry and momentum for next season, it’s up to the players to get physically and mentally ready, primarily on their own.  From virtual Zoom meetings to virtual workouts, Mooney has been keeping tabs with his Cavalier teammates and coaches as he fights for a bigger role within the team next season.  As we still live with the uncertainty of what the future holds, Mooney continues to stay focused on his quest of becoming a household name in the Association.

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