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Ex-Coyote Mooney living his dream with Texas Tech

March 30, 2019; Anaheim, CA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Matt Mooney (13) celebrates the victory over Gonzaga Bulldogs following the championship game of the west regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on March 30, 2019. Richard Mackson / USA TODAY Sports1 / 2
Matt Mooney (right) played three seasons for South Dakota before transferring to Texas Tech as a senior. Here he guards Khy Kabellis of North Dakota State during a Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, game at the Scheels Center. (Dave Wallis / The Forum)2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the crowds and the hype and the many distractions of the NCAA Final Four don’t seem to bother Texas Tech senior guard Matt Mooney, there’s a good reason for that.

During his first year at South Dakota, where he played for three seasons before transferring to the Red Raiders program, he got used to shooting and practicing in the DakotaDome, which at the time was the home of Coyotes basketball, and practically every other USD athletic program.

“For people that don’t know, you’ve got every sport in there. You’ve got a practice gym in the back and the main court in the middle and you’ve got track running around you, football lifting weights up in the weight room, you’ve got golfers hitting golf balls into the net and something from every team,” Mooney recalled on Thursday, April 4, surrounded three deep by reporters in the Texas Tech locker room inside U.S. Bank Stadium. “It’s crazy. It’s distracting, but you’re right there in the middle, and you get used to it.”

The Coyotes’ current home court, Sanford Coyote Sports Center, was under construction when Mooney was new at the school, and he admits that he didn’t wait for the official grand opening to visit the new facility.

“They were building the new facility in my redshirt year and it was locked off, but I would always sneak in through the fence and go in there and think about what it would be like to play in there,” Mooney said.

His transition from the Summit League to the Big 12 was practically seamless this season, as Mooney started all 36 of the Red Raiders’ games, averaging more than 30 minutes and 11 points per game. They went 30-6, earning a share of the conference’s regular season title and despite going one-and-done with a loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, Texas Tech notched wins over Northern Kentucky, Buffalo, Michigan and Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament, earning the first Final Four trip in the program’s history.

That Mooney could make the switch to a significantly higher level of competition is not a surprise to those in the know.

“I remember when Mooney left South Dakota, we were looking for a grad transfer and I did some inquiries. Everything didn’t quite fit what we were looking for and what he was looking for but I’ve often said that guys who play at the supposed mid-major level, by the time they’re juniors and seniors they certainly belong in a BCS conference,” said Virginia assistant coach Brad Soderberg, who was South Dakota State’s coach for two seasons in the 1990s. “Many of them do, and him in particular as he’s as competitive as anyone you’re going to see. What an impact he’s had at Texas Tech, so good for him.”

And as much of a challenge as Final Four usual suspect Michigan State will present for the Red Raiders on Saturday evening in downtown Minneapolis, Mooney says he’s already battle tested from an intense and ultimately friendly rivalry with SDSU star Mike Daum during the three seasons they went head-to-head in the Summit League. Mooney said Daum and the Jackrabbits were always an inspiration to work harder in the off-season, and there was a hatred that has grown into respect.

“We were rivals and I didn’t really like him and I didn’t really like South Dakota State. We hated each other,” Mooney recalled. “But I did talk to Mike in the summer and he asked what I was doing, I asked what he was doing. He actually messaged me the other day and congratulated me on getting to the Final Four, and I wish him the best too. He’s a great player.”

Mooney’s college basketball career will end either Saturday or Monday, and the crowds and the noise are more intense even that a practice at the DakotaDome, but he’s not one to complain.

“Just being here, right now, I’m living a dream,” Mooney said, with a smile.