Jan. 30, 2010
by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA –When Georgia Tech ran all the way to the national championship game in 2004, perhaps the most important player on that team was Clarence Moore.
He wasn’t a starter, wasn’t the best on the team at any one primary skill (steals and blocked shots rarely cap stories), but Moore was the glue man.
The fifth-year senior held the Jackets together, got in grills when necessary and thereby commanded a measure of respect that coach Paul Hewitt and his staff could not. Moore earned it by enduring hard knocks, and returning after one year away from the team to take a jackhammer-serious approach to hoops.
“They knew they were going to get my all,” he said, “and if they didn’t give theirs, they were going to hear from me.”
Today, Moore is back, but he won’t be barking at Tech players. He’ll be on the other bench this afternoon, when Kentucky State plays No. 22 Tech in Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
It took a while after earning his Tech degree in the fall of 2004 for Moore to reconcile with his calling. Inner doubts first convinced him that the real world would be a good idea.
Then, a little work in the shipping business back in his native Louisiana felt no more natural than a jock strap would on one’s head, and Moore felt no better about other jobs. His next step was ratified when Moore conferred with his college coach and his future father-in-law, former Tennessee coach Wade Houston.
“I totally and completely endorsed the idea of him being a coach,” Hewitt said. “I told him go for it. `You’re great with young people, you’re going to be able to get players to play hard.’ “
That much Moore seems to be handling.
But he has his hands full. After a few years spent as a high school assistant, first at Atlanta’s Paideia School and then at a school in Louisville, the hometown of his wife – former Tech All-America high jumper and eventual academic counselor Lynn Houston – he started small in the college ranks.
Moore was the assistant – the only one – when last season began at Division II Kentucky State, in the state capital of Frankfort about halfway between Louisville and Lexington. Soon, about halfway through the season, another man’s misfortune led to him being named “interim” head coach, a title he still holds — quote marks and all.
Chaos has danced near KSU. Moore had to hold tryouts to flesh out his roster. Five of his 11 players did not play organized basketball last year.
The Thorobreds (4-12) are not thoroughbreds.
“Last year was tough for me to recruit so we had guys who tried out. A lot of guys had basketball backgrounds,” he said. “It’s one of those things I was kind of thrown into. This is not Division I, where you would have four or five assistants.
“I was the assistant. I had to do everything myself. I was strength coach, the head coach, assistant coach. I didn’t really have a chance to get out there and recruit. I had a few guys returning, and picked the rest off the yard. My guys play very hard.”
There’s evidence Moore can overcome adversity, but it is tangential testimony.
He has rallied from his own chaos to coalesce and lead peers, but… how fair might it bet to judge a man trying to sail a ship over-loaded to begin with by excess ballast?
As he tries to gain a professional foothold, one might argue that Moore stepped a tad quickly onto the wrong ladder. Perhaps he should have become a high school head coach before moving to the college ranks. At this point, who knows?
Former teammate Marvin Lewis, now associate athletics director for finance and administration at Georgia State, has no doubts. He saw Moore take over the ’03-’04 Tech team — from the bench — after leaving the squad the prior season to cope with personal issues and academic struggles.
“Everybody knew Mo’s story (which included him struggling with school work, the death of his mother, impending family life and more),” said Lewis. “Everybody knew Mo had been through a lot.
“Mo was 22, 23, fifth year in school, he’d been hurt twice, quit the team for a while for personal reasons, and everybody saw he went through a tremendous journey in school and life. He commanded attention.”
Today, another station on that journey.
It will be a bit more frantic than Moore might like.
This game originally was supposed to be a preseason exhibition game, a favor from Hewitt.
But when Tech could not find a suitable opponent to fill the last gap in the Jackets’ ACC schedule – which means an easy-to-beat team that would do Tech no good in RPI ratings, or a more highly-regarded opponent that would bring the risk of a loss and probably seek a return campus visit as well – Moore ended up doing his old coach a favor.
The exhibition instead became a regular-season game because non-Division I opponents do not impact RPI.
Moore and the Thorobreds will try to escape with their skin. They’re accustomed to playing teams like Claflin, LeMoyne-Owen, Clark Atlanta, Ft. Valley State and Albany State in the SIAC, where average attendance among the historically black colleges is about 650. The ‘Breds just about NEVER play teams with three former McDonald’s High School All-America players.
Nonetheless, Moore has a good idea where he wants to go even if he’s not sure how he’ll get there.
“In the next few weeks, I hope I’ll be going through the interview process [at KSU],” he said. “Every guy’s dream was to play professionally, but I knew that would be a stretch for me. Looking back, I wish I had gotten into coaching sooner.
“We’ve been in a bunch of close games so our record is really not a reflection of how well we’ve played. I had five guys who hadn’t played basketball in a year. It’s been a unique year. We’re hanging in there.”