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Aug/Sept 2011

The late John Wooden believed success was contingent on timing;every play required precision. Wooden drilled his players in practice, repeating schemes step-by-step until everyone was in sync, every movement a flawless execution.

WNBA guard Monica Wright knows about timing, too.

The Lord blessed Wright with exceptional athletic talent—speed, agility, poise, concentration—which she currently maximizes by tallying three-pointers and assists for the Minnesota Lynx.

But for Wright it was back at the University of Virginia where her journey—both on the court and off—really took off. As a Cavalier, Wright developed her basketball skills, chalking up scoring records and winning national honors throughout her college career. In 2010, as a senior, she broke Virginia’s all-time scoring record (2,540 points) and was named an Associated Press All-American for the third time. Wright earned even more awards through the conference, being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (the first in Cavalier women’s basketball history) and ACC Player of the Year. Fittingly, she was also a finalist for the Wooden Award.

Once you’re out in the world you really have to fight. There are so many different things that are thrown at you. A lot of the time it’s just you and the Word—just you and God.”
                                             
 – Wright

Like many athletes, though, Wright found that, while the accolades were rewarding, the peace and happiness that came in those moments didn’t last. Off the court she couldn’t find her rhythm. She tried to fill the void by living in the fast lane, spending her free nights and weekends at college parties, doing things that, according to Wright, “as a woman of God, I should not have been doing.”

“We (athletes) have a problem thinking it’s all about us,” she said, “that we create our own success.”

That was when God placed Phil Booker in Wright’s life. An evangelist at Blue Ridge Church of Christ in Charlottesville, Va., Booker was visiting the University of Virginia campus when he was introduced to the young basketball star. They exchanged contact information, and their connection eventually led to a meeting between Wright and Booker’s wife, Ayhanna, the church’s women’s ministry leader.

“I had a lot of doubts about the Bible, and I was really able to open up with her,” Wright said. “Ayhanna did a great job of explaining things to me. She listened to what I had to say and corrected me—very nicely.”

Ayhanna began challenging Wright to investigate the Bible, its facts and its history. Was it consistent? How did historical events line up with the Word of God? She also urged Wright to go to the college library and seek the Truth. If Wright chose to doubt, she had to support those doubts with facts.

“I went to the religious section and was completely intimidated by the number of books,” she said. “So, I just pulled out all the Bibles.”

Spread across the table were the New International Version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a King James Version, the New Living Translation, and whatever else her 5-foot-10 frame could reach on the shelves of the stacks.

Wright compared Scriptures, looking for ambiguities. She matched the interpretations and found that they all had the same messages.

“I thought the different versions would say different things,” she said. “After looking at them, though, I began thinking, ‘Wow. There’s a reason this book has survived for so long.’”

Wright’s intellectual effort was the beginning of a lifechanging experience—the kind of transformation that was led by Truth and described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

 
Monica Wright – #22

Born: July 15, 1988
Height: 5-10
College: University of Virginia
Years Pro: 2

Highlights:
Member of the 2010 WNBA All-Rookie Team
Ranked 2nd in the WNBA among rookie scorers, 3rd in rebounds and 3rd in assists in 2010
“The eye-opening experience for me was actually reading the Word—understanding it and realizing how important it was and that it was the actual Word of the Lord,” Wright said. “I already had my basketball goals in place—where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be. God just timed it all perfectly.”

Wooden was right. Timing does lead to success. And God’s timing in Wright’s life was proving perfect.

The Bible became her compass as a college senior. When Wright wasn’t practicing or on the road playing, she plunged into Bible studies, sometimes three or four nights a week.

“I was literally at Ayhanna’s house all the time studying, sometimes until midnight even when I had to get up and go to class the next day,” she said. “Ayhanna was a strong mentor for me.”

Off the court, Wright began spending more time alone. She knew where temptation was at all times. If she stayed away from the old haunts, she could avoid it.

“I knew it was going to end up badly if I continued to go out,” she said. “It was hard because I was a senior. I was a leader on the team at that time. My teammates would ask me, ‘Are you going out tonight?’ I didn’t want to be seen as being snobbish or like I didn’t want to hang out with them.”

Soon, however, Wright began using the opportunity to share her faith with her teammates. As a freshman at Virginia, Wright had attended her first FCA meeting, listening to the message but resisting any commitment. Now, as a senior, Wright began attending Huddle meetings and Bible studies regularly.

“I found out it was important for me to hear the Word and be around other Christians who were having the same struggles,” she said. “It really made a difference to me, and I started taking teammates with me to some of the studies.”

When God speaks, things change; and the Lord was speaking to—and through—Wright.

The Word became transformational. Her faith deepened; her character strengthened. Through the Holy Spirit, Wright was defeating temptation, overcoming adversity and living a life filled with hope.

“I hadn’t even finished all my Bible studies when I said, ‘Ayhanna, I’m ready. I would love to give my life to the Lord,’” Wright said. “I just couldn’t wait anymore.”

After her decision to willingly accept Christ into her heart, Wright was baptized at a small service in Virginia. The event was emotional and meaningful for Wright.She had been christened as a baby, but this was different. As she said, “I didn’t know the things I know now.”

“I never cry—and I never, ever cry in public—but that day I bawled,” she said. “I let it out in front of the whole church. I couldn’t contain it.”

Six weeks later, in April 2010, the Minnesota Lynx selected Wright as the second overall pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft. Through the transition, Wright found herself under the spiritual guidance of new mentors who could help in the absence of Ayhanna as team chaplains Diane Smith and Michelle Backes welcomed Minneapolis’ newest sports star to the city.

“We had about a two-hour lunch in which she shared her spiritual journey,” said Backes, also the wife of FCA Area Representative Ron Backes. “Monica was just wide-eyed and excited to tell others about the Lord and about her faith. With her, it’s real. Her identity is in the Lord whether or not the shot goes in. You could see that. You could see her centeredness. You could just see the Holy Spirit in her. We thought, ‘Isn’t she beautiful, inside and out?’”

For Wright, life as a professional athlete came with a new set of challenges. As a recently committed Christian, the schedule—practices, appearances, workouts, games, travel, family and friends—required her to recalibrate. And her need for adjustment only continued when she immediately jumped into seven months of overseas competition in Poland right after the season.

“I was so tired all the time,” said Wright, who started 24 of 34 games for the Lynx as a rookie, averaging 11.1 points per game. “You really have to make time for the Lord, so I had a schedule for myself. I did all my reading and prayed before I left the house. I had a church in Minnesota, but because I could rarely go, I would pray on the phone with them during the season. I think God was preparing me for being overseas because it was just such a challenge being away from the church body.”

"You could just see the Holy Spirit in her. We thought, ‘Isn’t she beautiful, inside and out?’” 
                                          – Michelle Backes,
                                         Lynx Chaplain

When Backes, now in her 12th season as a Lynx chaplain, heard what Wright said, she nodded, as if she anticipated the response. In her role, she has seen and counseled a lot of professional athletes on life outside of basketball.

“You are plucked out of your support group, which is a huge challenge,” Backes said. “They don’t have a schedule. As a Christian athlete, they have to evaluate how they will spend their downtime. What movies do they go to? What choices do they make now that they are on their own? I like to call it the ‘bubble of time.’ They are searching—a lot.”

Now in her second WNBA season, Wright reflects on her rookie year as a reality check—both as a professional athlete and as a Christian. It was a new lifestyle dominated by thousands of miles on the road for months on end. One day she’d wake up in a Los Angeles hotel, and by sunset she would be sleeping on a plane bound for San Antonio. Then Detroit. Then Chicago. But, regardless of location or situation, Wright learned one important lesson from her first year in the pros: She was never without her Lord.

“Once you’re out in the world you really have to fight,” she said. “There are so many different things that are thrown at you. A lot of the time it’s just you and the Word—just you and God. I think I needed that.”

Now, as Wright continues her career with the Lynx, she knows she is right where the Lord wants her: still draining three-pointers as the shot clock expires. Wright on time, with an assist from God.

--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.

Courtesy of Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images and David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images


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