By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
There were several reasons Mike Penberthy, a Master’s University alum, elected this summer to become an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.
For one thing, the move reunited him with the team he won an NBA title with in the early 2000s. For another, he’d have the opportunity to coach one of the leading contenders to win this year’s NBA Championship.
But, the number one reason?
“Seeing my family every day,” said Penberthy, who worked the last two years for the New Orleans Pelicans, keeping him away from his family’s Santa Clarita home for most of the year. When he and his wife, Wendy, broke the Lakers news to their three high-school-aged children in July, the family shared an emotional moment.
“We all had a good cry,” he said.
Penberthy’s position as an assistant coach with the Lakers will involve shooting work, the skill for which he’s most famous, but it won’t be exclusively so. He will also scout opposing teams, evaluate the Lakers’ players – a group that includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two of the top five-to-seven players in the NBA – and train a number of the squad’s players individually.
“(I’ll also) be in the big room with all the coaches making sure the team is going in the right direction,” said Penberthy, who worked as a private trainer for some of the league’s elite players and was an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves before taking the Pelicans assistant coaching job.
At Master’s, Penberthy was the most prolific scorer in school history. He set TMU’s all-time points record (2,616) and the career mark for 3-pointers made (444). He was a two-time NAIA All-American, leading the Mustangs to four NAIA national tournament berths from 1993-1997 before going on to a successful professional career overseas. He played for the Lakers from 2000 to 2002, winning the 2001 NBA title on a team that featured Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Through it all, his base was Santa Clarita.
For more than two decades, Penberthy has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, home to the basketball training facility he founded, Starting5, and to Master’s, a school that represents a formative time in his life.
Penberthy says TMU professors like Dr. Doug Bookman and Dr. William Varner made a crucial impact on him.
Another major influence came from Dr. John MacArthur, then TMU’s president. Penberthy says that during the 1994-95 season, his sophomore year, he was overly concerned with how people perceived his play. He’d ask himself whether he was demonstrating enough humility on the court. Was he passing the ball enough?
MacArthur invited Penberthy over to his house to set the 6-foot-3 guard’s mind at ease.
“He was like, ‘You’re a Christian. Just play, you’re fine, stop worrying about how everyone is saying you should play,’” Penberthy recalls, adding, “(He said), ‘Your job is to go out and play and glorify God and do the best you can. If you’re not playing your hardest, you’re not glorifying God. Just be yourself.’ He said, ‘That’s my approach (as a pastor). I do what God has called me to do and let everyone else worry about what they think of me.’”
Penberthy took the advice from MacArthur, Bookman and others to heart: He’d honor the Lord by being the best player he could be and by the way he lived his life.
Now as a coach, he says one of his favorite questions to answer is whether he has the opportunity to share his faith with the pros he works with.
“I say, yes, every day for the last 26 years I have had the chance (to do that),” Penberthy said. “It’s living. I don’t stand up there and (preach) to these players. I don’t have a pulpit every day in the locker room. It’s just living your life, that’s the proclamation of the truth. You are open and transparent when you fail, and (you) fall on the grace of God in those moments and you talk about your relationship with Christ being your foundation and the Word of God being the sword and fighting sin in your life.
“It’s living, and when those moments come, it’s not hard to be a Christian in the secular world. … You live your life as anyone else would live their life, as an NBA employee, working hard and being humble and mastering whatever your craft is.”
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