Beyond basketball

A day spent with Syracuse basketball signee Matthew Moyer at his boarding school reveals layers off the court

SOUTH KENT, Conn. — Kelvin Jefferson’s office door slowly opened as Matthew Moyer stepped into complete darkness shortly before 6 p.m., just 30 minutes after South Kent’s 99-83 win over Army Prep.

The lights turned on and revealed Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney on the cover of two magazines and a copious amount of basketball memorabilia. But not Jefferson. The head coach was back at the gym. Moyer wasn’t there to see him anyway.

He reached for a black case behind Jefferson’s swivel chair and brought it to his lap. Moyer keeps the case in Jefferson’s office, down a narrow hallway of The Old Building, so his violin inside won’t get stolen or damaged by the varying temperatures in his dorm room.

The 6-foot-8 Syracuse basketball signee then nestled the violin between his chin and blue sweater. He was still wearing his sweatpants from after the game and played almost three minutes of “Ashokan Farewell,” a song from the Civil War era.

“Sort of a Renaissance man,” said Walter Moore, South Kent’s associate athletic director. “It’s a risky thing to do as a macho athlete.”


Moyer is a quasi-celebrity 10 hours from his Ohio home, known mainly as a basketball star at the boarding school with 2,000 fewer students than his high school. But a day spent with him last Wednesday revealed artistic interests, musical backgrounds and a natural extroversion that adds layers beyond a future high-major Division I basketball player.

Each piece of his arsenal lends insight into a different segment at the 180-student all-boys school, allowing him to connect with different social and racial groups or isolate himself in his own head. Each provides an understanding of an aspect outside his niche on the court, further diversifying a Syracuse-bound forward who is striving for the same expansion in his game.

Fresh off his 20-point outing, Moyer finished with a twirl of the bow and stored his violin with the same precision. He walked out of the door and back into the desolate hallway. No noise or lights. Just the bustling dining hall on the floor below. He ducked to avoid the ceiling as he descended the narrow stairway, back into the shuffle of normal high school life, if only for five more months.

‘That he takes it seriously, I mean it’s art’

Cheryl Moore wanted to know where the rest of her students were. The South Kent Art Department Chair, and Moyer’s teacher for his first class of the day, was starting a new unit on water colors and the last stragglers shuffled in the door.

Moyer was the first one there and stood with both hands in his pockets, intently observing as Moore demonstrated the assignment. He retreated to his desk, flexible ruler and pencil in hand. Moyer didn’t complete the template before class ended but offered to come in and finish before the 4 p.m. tipoff, when he’ll showcase his shooting range and guard-like ball-handling abilities.

When the class began in the fall, Moyer viewed art as an easy A. Now it’s a tool to put his imprint on something besides a scoreboard. Accompanied by the Pandora stations Moore plays in class — today Sam Smith Radio — Moyer clears his mind of everything besides art.

He’s spent the last four weeks illustrating his self-portrait, a fairly accurate black-and-white rendering that now serves as his phone’s lock screen picture.

“I’ve never tried this hard for anything drawing, ever in my life,” he said. “Just being able to actually focus on something other than sports or violin, and to actually put so much time and effort into that, like I’m so proud of myself.”

“I’ve never tried this hard for anything drawing, ever in my life. Just being able to actually focus on something other than sports or violin, and to actually put so much time and effort into that, like I’m so proud of myself.”
Matthew Moyer

Moore is relieved one basketball player was already removed from her class. She has to reprimand another for sleeping and another for using his phone.

But Moyer, the affectionate athlete with an infectious laugh, is different.

“That he takes it seriously, I mean it’s art,” Moore said. “He’s a gem.”

‘He’s embraced this community’

A prospective student walked into Joseph J. Brown Gymnasium with his parents shortly before 11 a.m. while Moyer took jump shots alone. He stopped his workout, sweat slowly dripping from his close-cropped curly black hair, and shook hands with the three visitors.

“Hi, I’m Matt Moyer,” he says, “Come to South Kent!”

He’s still trying to court people to come to his school, just like he’s done with top basketball recruits since committing to SU a year and a half ago.

Moyer is an ambassador for South Kent, Jefferson’s undoubted choice if a basketball player needs to speak to children or about the program. He’s extended his influence beyond basketball and reached those outside the athletic realm.

Before basketball season started, he donated money from recycled bottles to an episcopal cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut. Twice a month he went to Church Street Eats, a cooperative ministry in Hartford, and served lunch and donated clothing to the needy. He washed dishes in the school cafeteria every other week, sometimes offering to fill in when staff was shorthanded, and still volunteers as a chalice bearer during communions.

“My ability to separate myself in other things besides basketball and academics has really made me understand people better,” Moyer said, “… You know, I do take pride in it.”

Moyer greeted nearly every student or teacher with a handshake or hug. Almost everyone who walked by at lunch asked about the soft cast on his left wrist. He explained that he fell on it against Brewster Prep three days prior but would be ready to go later that day. One female teacher wrapped him with a bear hug. He didn’t know her name, but she knew him.

Moyer says he relates to the Asian students who play violin, the white students who play hockey and the black students who play basketball. His teammates questioned him for gravitating toward other groups, but he was just doing what others have always done to him.

“He’s embraced this community, the community has embraced him,” Reverend Stephen B. Klots said. “… He really is a multi-faceted young man.”

Matt Schneidman | Sports Editor

Matthew Moyer stands in St. Michael’s Chapel, the building he’s both played the violin and sang in with the whole school watching.

‘He’ll thank us one day when he’s 50’

Sunlight illuminated the inside of St. Michael’s Chapel on South Kent’s campus while Moyer looked toward the stage at 11:47 a.m. It’s the same view the entire school had when he played “Ashokan Farewell” two Fridays ago, a rare sighting of his violin outside Jefferson’s office during basketball season.

Moyer started playing violin when he was 5 and never had the option to stop. His mother Annette wouldn’t let him until he didn’t live at home. He sat first chair in the Columbus Symphony Junior Orchestra and stopped practicing in eighth grade because he didn’t need to. He could play a song after listening to it only two or three times.

I told him, he’ll thank us one day when he’s 50. He was definitely the best violinist in the orchestra in high school
Annette Moyer

In the same chapel, Moyer sang a solo as one of three kings in the school’s Nativity Play. Klots has worked at South Kent 21 years and always has slight trouble finding three kings. But as Moyer stood backstage in a gold crown and blue robe, his teammates laughing uncontrollably in the audience, the only challenge was to hold back his own laughter.

“I think his teammates were waiting for it to be funny, but he was good,” Jefferson said.

Music used to cast Moyer as an outlier, but others have grown to understand. Just like he’s assimilated the largely Asian musical contingent at South Kent. It’s given him a different perspective on how people function, including himself, and he’s learned to use the violin to erase his own stress.

As Moyer’s left hand shook vigorously on the strings in his coach’s office, his right conducted the bow at varying angles and the notes melodically flowed between high and low. He aimed his steadfast gaze downward, zoning out everything around him just like he intended.

“I feel like playing an instrument is a part of you, is like an extension of your soul, an extension of yourself,” Moyer said. “I know whenever I have a problem going on in life, I can just resort to the violin.”

‘He’s a novelty’

The picture on the flat-screen TV buffered out of focus and it was rather inconvenient considering the game’s magnitude. Syracuse was looking for its first conference win against Boston College after starting 0-4. Moyer urged the ESPN3 stream to improve so he could watch his future team from inches away on his bed.

His hands are finally free, save for the occasional McDonald’s fry. He held a pencil in art class at 8 a.m., a basketball in open gym at 10:30, a violin in his coach’s office at 6 p.m. and the hands of friends and teachers throughout the day. Now they’re just used for instinctive reactions to the game.

He teems with anticipation when discussing his potential role, roommate arrangements and going to school with girls. Within feet of each other in his room sit his Syracuse scarf, a framed picture of him and Boeheim and two pillows with matching Syracuse pillowcases.

He’s ready to move on.

If anything, boarding school has uncovered sides that neither Moyer nor others knew he had. He’s gone from questioned to accepted and in the process, stretched his profile beyond those of the Division I-bound players surrounding him.

It doesn’t distinguish him on the court, where numbers define everybody. But off it, past the eye of coaches, past the jeers of fans and past the pressure of being a nationally ranked recruit, Moyer is defined by more.

“When you think of basketball, especially high-major top 50 basketball players, he’s not the average, he’s far from it,” Jefferson said. “He’s a novelty.”


Banner photo courtesy of David Spagnolo