Photo Courtesy of Ryan Ems

Matt Cotton’s faith has helped him overcome setbacks and excel in basketball

More often than not, you hear players in post-game interviews on television thanking the man upstairs for their performances during their respective games.
This is no stunt; a player’s faith, in many cases, is very important to them, and is the guiding light in their lives, helping to keep them stable and positive. Matt Cotton has taken that principle to heart in his young basketball career.
The senior shooting guard from Voorhees, New Jersey is a proud follower of his faith, something that has influenced many decisions in his basketball career.
“I try to go to church every Sunday and my mother and I pray quite often together,” Cotton said.
Cotton’s mother, Constance, raised him in a Christian household and stressed the importance of faith to him as he grew up.
“He likes to read the word of God and enjoys going to church,” Constance said. “He does his daily devotions and we pray. It’s major and during the times that he was injured, I think his faith grew more. His faith gave him the strength to get through some of the challenging times that he’s had.”
Those values stuck with Cotton throughout his childhood, and his faith was a big reason for why he decided to attend the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania his freshman and sophomore years of high school, and St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey his junior year.
Not only were they both private Christian and Catholic schools, respectively, they also boasted two of the best high school basketball programs in the country, so Cotton was able to showcase his talents on a national scale.
“[The move] was mainly for basketball, to get exposed because a place like St. Benedict’s, they’re like top-20 in the country,” Cotton said. “They are getting seen by the best coaches and all types of colleges.”
He got the opportunity to play against some of the best recruits in the country, and played alongside some of the top recruits as well, including current Syracuse power forward Bourama Sidibe, who he roomed with while at St. Benedict’s.
Cotton said he rooming with the Mali native was an eye-opening experience.
“Being with him, he’s from Africa, but he speaks Spanish, he speaks his native language, he speaks English, he speaks French,” Cotton said. “He’s just an all-around person and I looked up to him honestly. I felt like I got so much better as a basketball player.”
The move to St. Benedict’s also put Cotton on watch of several Ivy League schools, Yale, Penn and Princeton to name a few. Cotton committed to Yale on October 2017, the beginning of his senior year.
Besides basketball, Matt chose Yale for academics, one of the most prestigious universities in the country.
Yale’s architecture program一an area of interest for Cotton一specifically caught his eye. Cotton was intrigued by the school’s “living communities,” where students of the same major live together in the same building.

Unlike other colleges and universities, where athletes are grouped together and live in off-campus housing or some arrangement through the school, Yale groups students by major, not by anything else.
He also decided to return to Voorhees for his senior year, attending Eastern High School and playing on the same team as his friends from grade school.
“I played with most of those guys in middle school, all the way down to fourth grade, so it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it to be,” Cotton said of transferring to Eastern.
Matt’s offers all came during his prep school career, so coming back to Eastern was a nice way to wrap up high school before attending Yale in the fall.
“At first it was difficult because I had to sit out my first 30 days, so I missed the first, I think, 11 games, but my teammates, they played well,” Cotton said. “By the end of the year, I felt like we really hit our peak and were playing really well.”
Constance welcomed the move back home as not only a chance to see Matt on a daily basis but also be up close and assist with his recruiting process. Instead of being a half-hour or more away, Matt was less than five minutes away playing at Eastern.
“When he was away at boarding school, college coaches were constantly texting and calling him,” Constance said. “At home, we could be around for that process.”
Transfer rules and an injury limited Cotton to playing only half of his senior year. But while he was on the court, he averaged over 18 points-per-game, leading his team to the state playoffs.
When he steps foot on campus at Yale, he is looking to have that same impact.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Cotton said. “I feel like it’s going to be freshman year again, going to a really good academic place with good basketball, so I need to make sure my body is right for basketball and have my time management ready.”