When the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced the mid-season top 25 student-athletes who were frontrunners for the NCAA’s most prestigious basketball honor — the John Wooden Award — there was one name noticeably omitted: John Mooney.
Halfway through this season, it was already clear that John Mooney is definitely one of the best players in all of college basketball, and without question one of the most valuable. It becomes evident upon watching a Notre Dame basketball broadcast for just a few minutes; No. 33 in blue and gold is all over the place, rebounding on both ends, passing effectively and scoring consistently.
Mooney led the entire country in double-doubles with 25, 16 of which came against notoriously stiff ACC competition, surpassing Tim Duncan’s single-season record at Wake Forest (15). Yet, what seems so abnormal from the stands or in front of a television screen constitutes just another day on the job for the 6-foot-9-inch senior from Orlando, Fla. and graduate of Lake Brantley High School.
“What we always talk about is just: ‘how can you do your job?’ Coach has set out a role for pretty much every guy on the team, and I try to maximize my role. Part of that is scoring and rebounding the ball; my main mindset when I step out on the floor is to try and get every rebound and I let that spark the rest of my game,” Mooney said.
“The main thing is trying to do the little things and whatever I can to help my team win, whether that’s taking charges, getting on the floor and, again, scoring and rebounding are a part of that so I just try to maximize my role.”
Despite averaging 16.2 points, leading the ACC and being second nationally with 12.7 rebounds per game, Mooney cares about one thing: doing everything he possibly can to put his team in a position to win.
“We had one goal in mind when we started this year, and we set it actually the day we lost last year our last game, and that was to get back to the NCAA tournament,” Mooney said.
After disappointing losses to Wake Forest and Florida State in February, Notre Dame looked to finish their season strong. However, due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the ACC canceled the tournament out of safety concerns and the Irish will have to wait until next year to make their dreams a reality.
While Notre Dame will not be playing in any more games this season, there is no question about whether or not Mooney would be ready. It’s something his opponents figure out right away: He’s a workhorse who is going to give everything he has on every possession.
“I think the main thing is hard work and staying focused,” Mooney said after being asked about the transferable qualities of basketball to his life off the court.
“That's what I tried to do ever since I was a young kid, definitely in middle school and in high school was just to work very hard, and stay focused and do it consistently. I try to implement that in other areas of my life, whether it's schoolwork or just being a good person and that's what I pride myself on, just working harder than the guy next to me, doing it consistently and doing it with a smile on my face.”
As a senior captain, Mooney worked each day to guide his younger teammates in the right direction. He noted that he has incorporated a lot of what he learned under the influence of peers like Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell in his leadership style.
When asked what it has been like to lead such a young core of players, Mooney responded in a cool, calm and collected way.
“It’s nothing crazy, man. It’s just trying to instill confidence in your teammates, leading by example. The past year I’ve tried to be a little more vocal, but it was cool to be able to learn from those guys, because they were so good at it, and be able to implement and do what I do now.”
Mooney started playing basketball at a young age, largely due to his older brother Brendan, who is three years older than him and who played college basketball at Spring Hill College. Since battling it out one-on-one and playing on varsity with his brother in high school, Mooney’s love for the game has only grown.
What does Mooney love so much about basketball? The answer is pretty simple: it’s a whole lot of fun.
“It's almost like a little kid when he's just going out and playing with his boys. That's that same feeling I get when I'm playing with my teammates. I'll say that I've built a bond with all of my teammates so that I can call them brothers and that's kind of the cool thing about this program as well, that you know the guys that you're playing with are really close and they're great guys so just being able to play with them and that fun aspect of it is what keeps me going.”
Mooney added that the chemistry he and his teammates have with one another undoubtedly contributes to their successes on the court.
“I think that's what it's all about: just having your teammate’s back and supporting them no matter what.”
As Mooney’s time at Notre Dame comes to a close, he is grateful for all of the experiences he’s had, but, at the same time, he is sad to leave. “It’s been everything that I’ve dreamed of, this has been the greatest experience of my life the past four years; I’m real sad that it’s coming to an end,” Mooney said.
In addition to the on-the-court stuff, Mooney breaks things down into two other categories: off-the-court stuff, like school and social life, and the spiritual aspect that Notre Dame prides itself on. He believes that these are the three things that make up his life and his world and believes Notre Dame has only helped strengthen each category