When he received the phone call last summer, Ramone Moore was at the mall with his mother, brother and young daughter.
They’d planned to go to a cousin’s cookout, a normal summer day for the Temple senior who’s remained close to his extended family members all of his life.
But that call changed his entire summer and ultimately, his outlook on life and his career.
He speaks slowly when he recalls the exchange.
His cousin, Juan Moore, had called to tell him that his son, Moore’s 9-year-old cousin Zaire -- the one who’d always looked up to him, the one who couldn’t wait to watch Temple’s games, the one who loved to play football -- had been involved in a car accident on an Atlantic City highway.
There weren’t any concrete details then. But Moore knew from the somber inflection in his cousin’s voice that it was far more than a fender bender.
Moore, the Atlantic 10’s top scorer (19.4 ppg) and a leading candidate for conference player of the year honors, and family members rushed to the previously scheduled family barbeque, not for fellowship, but to distribute the news that only grew worse as the day grew old.
His aunt called 20 minutes later to tell him and others that Zaire had not survived.
Moore doesn’t reflect on the specifics. A car driven by another relative had blown a tire and spun out of control. That’s what he knows.
Zaire is gone. That’s what matters.
“Once we got the call back, I just immediately, just started crying. … Everybody survived the accident besides Zaire,” he told ESPN.com. “I think about it a lot. It’s just something that makes me strong as a person, something I have to deal with the rest of my life.”
As he sat in the pews during the funeral, Moore thought of ways to recognize Zaire’s brief but meaningful impact on his life. The next day, he called his cousin and told him that he’d decided to change his number for his senior season.
“I was just looking at my cousin and Zaire’s mother, just to see the grief on those two faces, just to see their son in a casket and knowing that he won’t be back anymore,” he said. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘What can I try to do to help them get through it?’”
But Moore’s switch from No. 23 to No. 10 -- he chose 10 because Zaire’s birthday is on March 10 and he wore the No. 55 (5+5) in football -- was more than a gesture. It was a symbolic of Moore’s altruistic spirit.
He’s Temple’s top scorer, but coach Fran Dunphy and teammate Khalif Wyatt noted his selflessness.
“He does more than probably a lot of other people can see,” Wyatt said. “He just does a lot.”
His lead-by-example persona has been a critical component in Temple’s current six-game winning streak. His 20.5 ppg average during the run has also helped.
The Owls have jelled and taken the top spot in a chaotic Atlantic 10 with a 6-2 record. Four A-10 squads, however, enter Wednesday with 6-3 records. But the Owls, the A-10’s top shooting team (51 percent) can take first place outright with a win against George Washington Wednesday night.
Dunphy said his senior leader embraces his responsibilities on and off the floor.
“He knows what his role is. He knows how important it is to be the same person every day, that includes practice days as well as game days,” he said. “I think he’s done a really good job of realizing that and following through on that realization.”
Moore said he’s accepted the pressure that comes with being a star on a first-place team. If he struggles in the final month of the season, Temple could tumble. But he’s comfortable with the demands of his role, he said, although he tries to avoid adding any unnecessary weight to it.
Losing Zaire, however, has put his basketball career and life in the proper perspective.
This is a game.
Like Zaire, he or someone else he knows could abruptly lose their lives, too, he said.
He remembers that when he’s with Simone, his daughter. And when he’s on the road. He drives slower now.
He reaches out to Zaire’s father daily. Just checking in.
And he wears his seat belt, the result of a tragic summer and new appreciation for every day.
“It inspired me a lot. Just the simple fact that knowing that any given day you can lose a family member, a child or anything,” he said. “It just pushed me to be a better person, be a better basketball player, be a better student, just be a better person in all aspects of life. Any given day, any of our numbers could be called.”
The one he wears on the back of his jersey recognizes a 9-year-old who left too soon.