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 lockstep, 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 maximizes by tallying three-pointers and assists for the Minnesota Lynx.
Prior to entering the professional ranks, however, she developed her skills at the University of Virginia, chalking up scoring records and winning national honors throughout her college career. In 2010, as a senior, Wright broke Virginia’s all-time scoring record (2,540 points) and was later named an Associated Press All-American for the third time. She earned even more awards through the conference, being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (the first player in Cavalier women’s basketball history) and ACC Player of the Year. Fittingly, she was also a finalist for the Wooden Award.
While the accolades were rewarding, the peace and happiness didn’t last. Off the court Wright 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 added, “that we create our success.”
That was when God placed Phil Booker in her 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 Wright. They exchanged contact information, and the connection soon led to a meeting between Wright and Phil’s wife, Ayhanna, the church’s women’s ministry leader.
“I had a lot of doubts about the Bible, and I was able to really open up to Ayhanna,” Wright said. “She did a great job at explaining things to me. She listened to what I had to say and corrected me—very nicely.”
Booker challenged Wright: Investigate the Bible, its facts and its history. Was it consistent? How did historical events line up with the Word of God? Go to the college library and seek the Truth. If you choose to doubt, support your doubt with facts.
“I went to the religious section and was completely intimidated by the number of books,” she said. “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-11 frame could reach on the shelves of UVA’s library stacks.
Wright compared Scriptures, looking for ambiguities. She matched the interpretations and found that they largely all said the same thing.
“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 so long.’”
The effort was the beginning of a life-changing experience for Wright—a transformation that was led by Truth and described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in which Scripture reveals that the Word of God prepares and shapes us to do the will of God.
“The eye-opening experience for me was actually reading Word—understanding it and realizing how important it was and that it was the Word of the Lord,” Wright said. “I had all my basketball goals in place; where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be. So, God timed it perfectly.”
Wooden was right. Timing leads to success. And God’s timing in Wright’s life was perfect.
The Bible became her compass. 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 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 her senior year. She knew where temptation was at all times. If she stayed away from the old haunts, she could avoid temptation.
“I knew it was going to end up bad 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 that I didn’t want to hang out with them. Because I was a leader, they wouldn’t go out if I wouldn’t go out.”
Instead, Wright used the opportunity to share her faith with her teammates. During her freshman year at Virginia Wright had attended her first FCA meeting, listening to the message but resisting any commitment. As a senior, however, 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 I was having,” she said. “It really made a difference to me, and I started taking teammates to some of the studies.”
When God speaks, things change. 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 myself to the Lord. I just can’t wait anymore,’” Wright said.
On February 22, 2010, at a small service in Virginia, Wright was baptized. The event was emotional and more meaningful for Wright who, for the first time, made the personal decision to willingly accept Christ into her heart. 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.
As part of their duties as team chaplains for the Lynx, Diane Smith and Michelle Backes welcomed the Minneapolis’ newest sports star to the city.
“We had about a two-hour lunch in which she shared her spiritual journey,” said Backes, who, as the wife of FCA Area Representative Ron Backes, is a member of the FCA staff family. “Monica was just wide-eyed and excited to tell others about the Lord and her faith. With her, it’s real. Her identity is in the Lord whether or not the shot goes in. You can see it. You can 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 its own set of unique challenges. As a new Christian, the schedule—practice, appearances, workouts, games, travel, family and friends—required recalibration. Especially when she plunged straight into seven months of overseas competition in Poland right after her first full WNBA 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. 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 ever get there, I would pray on the phone with them the majority of the season. I think God was preparing me for being overseas because it was just such a challenge being away from the church body.”
Backes is starting her 12th season as a chaplain for the Lynx. In her time, she has seen and counseled a lot of professional athletes on life outside of basketball. When Backes hears what Wright said, she nods, as if she anticipated her response.
“You are plucked out of your support group,” she said. “That is a huge challenge. They don’t have a schedule. As a Christian athlete, how will they spend the 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.”
Wright’s rookie season—as a professional athlete and a Christian—was a reality check. She was thrown into 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. By sunset she would be sleeping on a plane bound for San Antonio. Then Detroit. Then Chicago. Then Atlanta.
Day after day, night after night, Wright was alone—without her church, without her mentor. But, regardless of human companionship, she found that 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. It’s just you and God. I think I needed that.”
This spring, Wright returned to Chicago. She finally enjoyed some down time, but she was never far from the game she loves, taking in an NBA Playoff game between the Bulls and the Miami Heat and preparing for training camp.
Now, as Wright continues her second season with the Minnesota Lynx with a year of growing experience behind her, she knows she is right where the Lord wants her: draining three-pointers as the shot clock expires. Wright on time, with an assist from God.
as published in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes magazine, Sharing the Victory