|Sunday, May 19
Tale of one athlete and the lessons he never learned
By Tom Farrey
To a basketball coach, Josh Moore is a seductive package.
He's 7-feet, 2-inches tall and solid, brought into this world, as it happens, by the same doctor who delivered Shaquille O'Neal. But spend just a few minutes with him, and it's clear that he is no mental dwarf either -- that this is a young man capable of grasping, at the very least, the complexities of any offense a coach might conjure.
That's what makes the journey of Josh Moore so frustrating to so many coaches. Repeatedly over the past five years, high school and college coaches have taken a chance on him only to see the relationship end prematurely. When the University of Michigan dismissed the agile center for academic reasons in January, it was hard to be shocked anymore.
The consensus among those who have followed his career is that no matter what Moore may have been taught in classrooms along the way, he never learned responsibility.
"Sad story," said Tom Konchalski, who runs a New York-area recruiting service for college coaches. "Nice kid. But lazy kid."
What role, if any, Christopher Robin Academy played in Moore's demise is up for debate. But this much is clear: The small school in Queens, regarded within basketball circles as an eligibility factory for college prospects, was where Moore turned for the quick fix necessary to deliver him an NCAA Division I scholarship.
One of New Jersey's top five prospects in 1999, Moore said he went to Christopher Robin that summer after it was discovered he lacked the required 13 core classes that the NCAA requires for eligibility. At the time, he was committed to playing the ensuing season at Rutgers under then-coach Kevin Bannon, despite consternation among some faculty members about his academic credentials.
Moore said he doesn't remember much about Christopher Robin -- not the courses he took, the exact grades he received, or the names of teachers. But he said he did some work, passed his classes, and that the school ended up helping him satisfy his NCAA deficiency.
Sometime later that year, though, Moore decided he would rather play for Bruins coach Steve Lavin at UCLA. So off he went to California, where he encountered more academic questions. To quell concerns by UCLA that he was ready for college work, he enrolled at two junior colleges, Long Beach City College and Compton College -- both times briefly and with no success.
"It was all set up for him here but he never went to class," Long Beach coach Gary Anderson said. "It's the story of a kid with opportunity right in front of him."
The events followed a pattern of behavior going back to early in high school when Moore first started to show talent on the court. Before going to Christopher Robin, the coaches at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J., and later St. Thomas More, a prep school in Connecticut, had trouble getting Moore to pay attention to his school work, according Bob Hurley and Jerry Quinn, the respective coaches at those schools.
UCLA lost interest. But Michigan was at the ready, unbothered by his spotty record or credits from Christopher Robin. Then-Wolverines coach Brian Ellerbe gave Moore a scholarship to one of the most academically elite state universities in the nation.
The tallest player in Michigan history was used mostly off the bench his first season. And, according to Moore, he did well enough in school. But the next season brought a new coach, Tommy Amaker, and what Amaker described as a new ethic. When Moore failed what he said were a couple classes last fall, the university ruled him academically ineligible.
"We have high academic standards here at the University of Michigan, and we are going to enforce those standards," Amaker announced at the time.
Like all good coaches, Amaker said he saw the potential in a talented player. "It's disappointing. He's bright, articulate and has a lot of qualities people would think of that are positive. It's unfortunate that things haven't worked out for him."
"If I had a 0.00 GPA and Tommy wanted me, I'd still be there," said Moore, who was averaging just 5.7 points and 2.0 rebounds when he was dismissed. "I had problems on the court. But don't say I had academic troubles."
Moore wants to transfer to another college team. But based on how rarely his phone rings these days, and the lack of high-profile programs making those calls, it would seem the alarm clock on his basketball career is about to sound. It's been chilling, and slightly bewildering, to Moore, who sees himself as "a very unlucky guy," a continual victim of bizarre circumstance.
"I'm tired of people pointing to me as a bad guy," he said. "I'm tired of people saying that 'Josh gets grades given to him' or that 'Josh is smart but doesn't want to go to school.' "
Moore doesn't blame his brief, if critical, time with Christopher Robin for any of his troubles. And Robert Donus, the school's principal, says no one else should hold him accountable for the failure of any player who goes on to struggle academically in college.
"When you're talking about students who take one course here, two courses here, I don't think anyone would expect us to be responsible for preparing them for college," he said.
Besides, Moore and his advisors vow, the world hasn't seen the last of him. Too many other tall, promising players from the New York area, such as fellow Christopher Robin alumnus Lamar Odom, have found success after failure. Moore is still 7-2, after all.
"Bottom line, he's not going to shrink," said Brian Crawford, Moore's former AAU coach.
"I'll be on a (NBA team) plane with Lamar soon enough," Moore laughs, "talking about Christopher Robin."
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.