SMU plays basketball nearly every day of the week except one — Fridays.
On Fridays star point guard Nic Moore and strength and conditioning coach Carlos Daniel leave their comfort zone of the gym and head to place where their impact is huge — volunteering at a Dallas-area food bank.
“The hardest part is seeing people who need food with three or four kids,” Moore said. “Your heart goes out to them. It’s hard to imagine a mom with three or four kids who are not getting proper nourishment.”
And in a season that didn’t hold the promise of any postseason play after the NCAA sanctioned the Mustangs for multiple violations including academic fraud and unethical conduct, the senior guard put his head down and decided to play for honor.
“We can’t go to the postseason,” he said during the American Athletic Conference basketball media days, “but we can have a good regular season. When I come in every day and see the other 12 guys in the locker room, and we fight with blood, sweat and tears — I do it for them and for coach (Larry Brown).”
Moore didn’t grow up poor but said nothing was ever handed to him. That includes his basketball stardom. Throughout his basketball career dating back to high school, Moore took second billing numerous times and was even an afterthought in the recruiting process.
At Warsaw Community High School in basketball-crazy Indiana, Moore earned the nickname Sir Sic Nic. The 5-9 dynamo, with his off-balance jumpers and no-look passes, consistently brought the home gym into an all-out frenzy. Moore filled up the stat sheet to the tone of 27.2 points and 4.7 assists a game his senior season. There was no telling how far Warsaw could have gone in the state playoffs had Moore not injured his knee late in the season.
Being shy of the six-foot mark was the primary reason why in-state, big-time basketball schools like Purdue, Notre Dame and Indiana didn’t offer Moore a scholarship. Instead schools like Evansville, Wright State, IP Fort Wayne and Illinois State did. Tim Jankovich, Illinois State’s head coach and a Gary, Ind., native, convinced Moore to play for the Redbirds.
Moore made the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team in 2012, averaging 10 points and 4 assists per game. When Jankovich decided to head to Dallas to work alongside Brown as an assistant at SMU, Moore followed. Moore’s final two games with Illinois State proved he was ready to play for, what at the time was called, a BCS school. The kid from Winona Lake dropped 24 points and 10 assists on Ole Miss in a first-round NIT tournament win. Moore followed that up with a career-high 25 points in a loss to Stanford.
The Lone Star State, known for its football obsession, was inheriting a basketball Hall of Fame coach and Indiana’s 2011 Mr. Basketball runner-up in the same season. There was no way Brown and Moore could move basketball from its second-place billing over football in the Dallas metroplex. However, the two together have played a major role in igniting SMU basketball into national prominence.
“We are truly building a new tradition here at SMU,” Moore said. “Coach Brown has made a tremendous difference.”
Once a high school recruiting afterthought, Moore is the engine in SMU’s rise to a 21-3 record and Top 25 ranking in the AP Poll. He leads the American Athletic Conference in both assists (5.2) and 3-pointers per game (2.7). Moore is second in scoring (16.7). He is third in free throws (82) and 3-point field goal percentage (.420) as well as assist to turnover ratio (2.5). In his last two games, Moore’s averaged 26 points and 7 assists while shooting 51% from the field.
If the front of Moore’s jersey said Michigan State, Indiana, North Carolina or Kentucky he might be the consensus national player of the year.
“I love the Moore kid,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told the Dallas Morning News in January. “He’s a kid that should be really, really appreciated. He gets it. He knows how to play. It starts with their best player and they understand who that is. Their shot selection is good because they know who should take the shots. Nic Moore’s their best shooter.”
Regardless of what his jersey says, Moore seems to be a finalist on nearly every postseason award list. That includes the prestigious Wooden Award (Moore is one of 20 finalists) as well as the Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s best point guard.
It goes to show that being second on the court hasn’t been such a bad thing. Especially on those Fridays, when Moore puts others first.
“I like being able to give back,” Moore said. “It’s nice to be able to put a smile on a homeless person’s face.”
Moore’s smile on the court, during a postgame interview and walking around campus is just as infectious as his play.
“He’s grown up so much,” Brown said after Moore scored 22 points in SMU’s 80-68 victory against Memphis on Jan. 30. “He’s become everything you hope a senior would be. He doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Above: Nic Moore says being able to give back to the community is important to him. (Courtesy Vladimir Cherry)