Moriah Jefferson: Hoopin’ It Up and Still CUTE
THE FASTEST FEMALE COLLEGE POINT GUARD IN THE NATION
I sat down to chill and chat with Moriah Jefferson, #4 of the University of Connecticut Huskies, on a nice August evening. Clad in her black chucks, tattered jeans and tailored shirt, she seemed relaxed and eager to engage in some girl talk. Prior to joining the UCONN Huskies, Moriah—a McDonald’s All-American—won a gold medal in the World Championship Competitions, got featured in various magazine and newspaper articles, and received much notoriety for a small, skinny homeschooled point guard. Now, entering her third year as a member of the UCONN Huskies, Moriah feels as if she has finally entered her zone.
Moriah, affectionately called “Mo” by friends and family, reflects no run-of-the-mill young lady. Not because she contributed to a National Championship team as a freshman. Not because in her sophomore year she started in all 40 games and led the team with 195 assists, making the 5th highest single-season total in UCONN’s history. Not because she earned a spot on the 2013 Big East All-Rookie Team and the 2013-2014 All-American Conference Team. Not because she acquired the title of the fastest woman point guard in the nation. Not because UCONN named her a team captain for the 2013-2014 season. In spite of her numerous accomplishments, what makes Moriah special flows from her faith in Jesus Christ and her acknowledgement of her destiny—that she has been “fearfully and wonderfully” designed for a specific purpose.
Born to Lorenza and Robin Jefferson in Dallas, Texas, Mo’s parents decided to homeschool all of their children. Most people give a surprised and confused expression when they hear of her homeschooling. I guess they suspect that type of environment not to produce top-level athletes. However, these assumptions did not stop her from excelling. In fact, the homeschooling route functioned as a launching pad for both her athletic and spiritual development. Her basketball career started with her home church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship’s Turnaround League, and she went on to play basketball with the Texas Home Educators Sports Association (THESA) and national AAU teams. During this season of her life, Mo found her purpose in playing basketball. Accepting Christ around the age of 12, she saw more opportunities to witness for Christ in the gym as she grew in maturity. She discovered the utmost importance of building relationships with others. This made it easier to relate to other Christian players and to share her faith to Non-Christians, moving them towards a relationship with Jesus Christ.
As we reminisced about her upbringing, our conversation turned to the depiction of women basketball players. Moriah suggested that their image frequently gets distorted due to the appearance of many women players who regularly sport loose-fitting clothes, little to no make up, and easy-to-manage hairstyles. “I see nothing wrong with this style of clothing since I wore them growing up as a tomboy playing ball and still enjoy wearing them today. But I believe it is also important to reveal a more feminine side to avoid implications of homosexuality inferred upon all women in sports,” she explained. She tries to separate herself from these stereotypes by periodically stepping out of her comfort zone, dressing up, styling her hair, and taking the extra time to feel a little bit “cuter” than normal. However, Moriah’s positive self-image stems from her strong Christian upbringing and continual growth in her faith—not necessarily in her appearance. “I can wear either style. I am comfortable with myself. I know who I am.”
To appear more feminine, some young women overcompensate in their appearance. Occasionally she would see other young women dressed immodestly—outfitted in extremely short skirts and revealing tight, low-cut tops. “They are doing what gets them attention from men, but it’s the wrong kind of attention.” When asked how she protected herself from falling into this trap, Moriah again pointed to her faith and purpose. Sure, she enjoys dressing up and feeling stylish, fashionable and attractive, but not at the expense of her own self-worth. Besides, her demanding basketball schedule rarely allows her time to dress up. Instead, she chooses to focus on her love for the game, her purpose, and her destiny—refusing to compromise her belief system.
This stance comes with pressure… from herself, her family, her teammates, her friends, and even fans personally unknown to her. But handling peer pressure poses no problem. Because of limited hours in the day with workouts, practices, classes, and study time, Moriah must remain focused. When other college students invite her to certain parties, heavy drinking nights, or hooking up, she declines. Without hesitation, she tells me, “I grew up in a Christian home learning that some things appear fun, but are not fun or good for you in the long run. My parents taught me to do what’s right. So I pray about things, stay in the Word as much as possible and try to keep my head on straight.”
Her beliefs come with consequences though. Because she decides to live by certain standards, namely Biblical standards, Mo loses friends and at times suffers name-calling such as “holy girl.” But she brushes it off. “The guys say I’m mean because I don’t want to do what they want me to do. But I don’t care because I’m at school to get my education, degree and play basketball.” And she lets them know that if they attempt to distract her from those goals, they lose the privilege of hanging with her.
After talking about basketball for a while, our discussion naturally turned to CUTE because Moriah integrated CUTE’s message with playing the game. “Being Covered Until The End is huge for me playing basketball. Every time I hit the court I realize that I can get hurt. I am playing with girls who are way bigger and stronger than me and I am risking my body.” So before each game last year, Moriah huddled the team together and prayed for the protection of their physical bodies, and she broke the huddle resting on God’s covering.
While Mo spoke, I noticed that she possessed a type of boldness, a strong confidence that radiated from her. As she talked, I wondered and questioned if that confidence ever waned. She chuckled and nodded in the affirmative before sharing that she wore “the-go-to-player” title in high school. From her freshman to senior year in high school, she helped lead her team to four straight National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship titles. During her high school career, she accumulated 3,354 points, 825 rebounds, and 728 steals. Her accolades and achievements gave her total confidence in her ability to play basketball, and allowed her to not only rise to stardom, but also excel as a leader. “Then I transitioned into college playing with ten other All-Americans who wanted to score 30 points and accomplish the same things. It was weird for me and I didn’t know my role, so I struggled a lot and everyone could see it. People were calling me and saying ‘This is not the Mo I knew.’ It really messed me up, and my confidence dropped to the point that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play basketball anymore.”
During the summer break from her freshman year, Moriah briefly stopped playing basketball. She turned to a familiar place, her Christian upbringing, and prayed to the Lord. She questioned why He brought her to UCONN and why things stopped working. She struggled, wondering if she asked God questions that she dare not ask. She expected silence from God, but experienced the opposite. “He told me to go to the gym one night and I went with one of my best friends. I locked myself in and played one-on-one and remembered why I loved basketball so much. He wanted me to just be me and just play the game.” And she did just that when she returned to school for her sophomore year. It appeared evident in her demeanor on and off the court. “That’s what it really means to be CUTE for me. Even when times are hard and you question God, it doesn’t matter. He has your plan and He has you Covered Until The End.”
Moriah also relied on one of her favorite scriptures to help get her through rough periods. “I memorized Philippians 4:13 for the basketball season. Because I’m so little, I recite that in my head as I am going up for the shot.” She then described how other players use various superstitions to help themselves during slumps and games. Some players rubbed their shoes, and laced them in specific ways. Some players had “lucky” socks and jewelry. They rubbed their hands in a certain pattern. Not Moriah. She depended on scripture to help her. “I repeat the scripture over and over in my head during the course of an entire game to remind me that I am covered.”
As our time together came to an end, I challenged Moriah to one final question. In one sentence, how would you describe yourself? My words hung in the air for a few minutes, seeping and penetrating into her mind. Moriah lifted up her head, laughed heartily and proclaimed, “I am CUTE … Covered Until The End.” With that proclamation, the interview ended, and we enjoyed the rest of the nice August evening chilling and relaxing.
Note: Moriah studies “Youth in Sports” at the University of Connecticut. The program consists of three degrees: Communication, Human and Family Development studies, and Psychology.