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Full-court Faith: How AJ McGinnis is embracing change, growth through his walk with God

When many basketball fans see Bisons’ junior AJ McGinnis, they see a sharpshooting guard that has been one of the most dangerous scorers on the Lipscomb men’s basketball team this season. A spark-plug that provides instant energy to his team and contributed to a NCAA Tournament appearance as a freshman at UNC Greensboro.

However, McGinnis’ story and value goes much deeper and much further than being able to put a ball in a hoop, and so did his growth over the offseason.

After the Bisons’ victory against Alabama A&M on Nov. 18 2023, McGinnis spoke to media members about where the most growth that he saw over the offseason wasn’t on the floor, but instead off of it.

Three months after that game, McGinnis sat down and chatted with me about what his growth journey has looked like, what he has learned, and how family and faith have guided him through it all.

A Time That Sparked Change

“It began I would say probably like towards the end of the summer; I kind of hit a wall.” McGinnis explained. 

He continued, “It was just a lot of things just going through my mind. A lot of things happening in my life and I just wasn’t happy with it. And something happened over the summer, an event, and I kind of just like broke down and got out of character and let my emotions get the best of me. But in moments like that, I always know that once I get there, I can’t get there again. The only place I can go is upward.”

His Journey of Spiritual Growth

So where did this transformation begin? Who and what helped to propel him upward? For McGinnis it’s a never-ending process that starts and ends with the foundation of his life; his relationship with God.

“It’s still a work in progress. I mean, nobody’s perfect, and walking with God isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Faith has played a big part though. I’ve started to see a change in my life, just the way that I think, the way that I act, [I’m] more happy. I feel a lot more just at peace with where I’m at.” McGinnis said.

“I feel like in the past I was always thinking about next step, next step, next step instead of being still with what God gave me and being grateful for where I’m at now and noticing that I’m actually doing better than I think.”

According to McGinnis, learning this valuable lesson helped him be content with where God has him in the present moment, and as a result allowing him to focus more on his relationship with him rather than the future that lies ahead.

“As I started to realize that, I started to just dig deeper into my relationship with God and try to strengthen it. I mean, it’s still an ongoing journey and I’m not done.  Nobody’s done until our name’s called in that book, but it’s definitely been a journey.”

Faith and Family During Times of Adversity

It’s no secret that life is going to hit us with punches. Ups and downs are a part of life and are always expected. For McGinnis however, he’s learned how to better handle these times of adversity through two key presences. His faith and his family.

“God puts you at a low sometimes, but when you’re at that low, you know the only place you can go is up. And you have to make the decision if you’re gonna take the next step or you’re gonna stay in that low place,” McGinnis explained.

“And with the help of my family and those around me and the support that they gave me, they made it clear that if this is what I really wanted to do, or just made me look at who I wanted to be as a person in the future, that I would have to  make certain steps to go upward. That’s when I figured out that I needed to start to change my lifestyle and just change different things and just work for the better.”

McGinnis gives much of the credit to his family for being the major influences in his life that have helped him see positive changes in his life and in him as a person.

“My mom and my dad and my uncles, basically my immediate family,” McGinnis said. “They played a big part because they raised me, they know me, they made me who I am today. So they know what to do when I’m going through things or they know just what to say, or they know what information to give me to help me overcome some things.”

For the Huntsville, Alabama native, there is no one that helps him in the perfect way at the perfect time in the way that his family does.

“They just know what to do. Like I can’t really explain it, especially my mom, she just knows what to say, when to say it, how to say it, everything…it’s just perfect, you know? They’ve been great to me.” 

Little Decisions and A Made Bed

McGinnis also detailed that executing on the little things in life has played a massive role his overall growth.

“It’s really the little things.” McGinnis said. “My parents, they always used to tell me, ‘if you have a made bed your day is probably going to go better than you expect it to.’ Just the small stuff, making up my bed, making sure my room’s clean, making sure everything is in order and just staying one step ahead and just taking care of the things that people really don’t think they need to take care of plays a big part. 

The process of spiritual improvement also means taking care of oneself physically as well. As a Division I athlete, the importances of physical health is nothing new to McGinnis, but for him its not just so that he can be in his best form as an athlete, but so he can be in his best form as a person and as a child of God. 

“Just waking up, making sure I don’t sleep in, making sure I’m going to bed at a decent time even on off days when we don’t have anything to do. Making sure I’m still giving my body the proper rest, giving my body the proper food.” McGinnis explained. 

“Once you do all that stuff, it feeds your spirit, not just your person. It feeds your spirit and  everything else just glows and get better”. 

Lessons Learned and His Advice to Others

In a journey that has seen battles, tests, lessons, triumphs, and everything in between, McGinnis feels like he has learned about life, himself and God during this journey. But if there is one lesson that he says specifically sticks out to him, it has to go back to a quote from his head coach at Lipscomb, Lennie Acuff.

“I learned that life is short man,” McGinnis said. “Throughout my whole high school/college journey I’ve lost a lot of friends and loved ones, and Coach Acuff has said something to us before and it goes along the lines of ‘how do you want to be remembered when you, when you die?’”

Taking this question to heart, McGinnis wants to forge a legacy that goes beyond his accomplishments as an athlete, but one that highlights who he wants to be as a person. A person that brightens the days of others and shows love to the people around him.

“That question kind of hit home for me because not everybody has the best label when they pass away,” McGinnis said. “And I want to be remembered as that guy who was always loving and always caring. Mc And so that’s one thing that I learned, that I just have to wake up every day and just love everybody that I encounter and just spread the love of God.”

His takeaways? A few words and a genuine smile can go a long way for yourself and for others.

“You might not even know who you’re talking to, but just talk to somebody with a smile on your face. You never know what it may do for them. And you never know what it may do for yourself either.” McGinnis says. “That’s the biggest thing I learned about life. Just keep pushing and keep loving and keep being a light.”

As he continues to try to shine brightly and be a light for those around him, this isn’t the end of AJ McGinnis’ story. If anything it’s just the beginning.