Reprinted by Permission
For some people, being involved with USA Basketball creates an opportunity to travel the world and broaden horizons. For John Moore, the order was reversed.
In Moore’s case, spending his childhood years in another part of the world created an opportunity to become involved with USA Basketball and cement a love of the game that would shape his life forever.
Moore, the longtime and very successful head men’s basketball coach at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, earlier this week to serve as a court coach for the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team training camp. This was Moore’s second stint as a USA Basketball court coach (he worked previously with the 2002 USA Men’s U18 National Team). He’s been a college coach for more than 30 years, following his playing days at Westmont. And it all started when he was a kid growing up in Japan – and his family played host to the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
“My dad worked for Goodyear,” Moore explained. “He was the managing director for Goodyear Tires Far East. Back then the Olympic basketball team was made up of college players and the top players from the AAU program. And the AAU back then was huge, but it was for older guys – not like the AAU we know of today. These were guys who graduated college and didn’t make the NBA.”
Goodyear was a sponsor of one of those teams, the Akron Wingfoots. Thus the connection when the team showed up in Japan.
“So we had the Olympic team over to our house,” Moore recalled. “Guys like Larry Brown, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Bill Bradley, Lucious Jackson, Mel Counts – a great, great team. I had a signed basketball that had all their names on it, along with the legendary Hank Iba, who was the coach.”
It was certainly not a coincidence that a young boy meeting those larger-than-life basketball players – who went on to win gold at the 1964 Olympics – would make basketball such a prominent part of his life. Meeting those players stuck with him.
“It always did,” he said. “I remember going to the Olympic Village in Tokyo and seeing these guys who were twice my height. They were heroes of mine. My first heroes were USA basketball guys. And that’s the first time I wanted to be a part of basketball, when I was that little boy infatuated with those guys with the red, white and blue on.”
Now Moore finds himself in a position to help other young athletes reach that Olympic level. The players he worked with this week were vying to make the 12-man roster that will compete in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “Lots and lots of talent, great group of guys to work with.”
Moore also mentioned his own excitement of working with University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who is head coach of the U18 team, along with U18 assistants Sean Miller (University of Arizona) and Ed Cooley (Providence College). “They’re just wonderful guys.”
Having gone 12 years since his last USA Basketball event, Moore sees the same level of talent he saw the first time – high praise given the comparisons.
“These guys don’t look like they’re 18 years old,” Moore said. “They’ve got great bodies, great athleticism. I think great physicality I would say. The talent level is extremely high. I did this one other time in 2002 – with players like Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala — and this group is on par.”
While the FIBA Americas U18 Championship will be played June 20-24 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, three of the athletes on hand had already had the opportunity to travel abroad for USA Basketball – and all might have that opportunity going forward. Moore, having spent 10 years of his youth abroad, understands how that experience builds character. Add to that the responsibility of representing one’s country and it’s easy to see how that can affect a young adult.
“You get a chance to be ambassadors of your country, and that’s the beauty of wearing the American flag on your sleeve,” he said. “And everywhere you go you get to be ambassadors of your sport. USA Basketball is a very good place today because we get the right guys. … Such high character, high quality.
“Often times, young men get a bad rap because they talk about entitlement. I don’t see a bit of that here. I don’t see ego; I don’t see pride. I see humility, a lot of hunger, and hard-working guys.”
Moore’s personal mission while he’s working with the U18 team is to get them to work harder on passing, which he considers something of a lost art. Playing guard at Westmont in the mid-70s, Moore amassed 422 assists in just two seasons.
“I think the pass is a part of the game that has been lost a little bit. I’ve said it before: I’m on a crusade to bring back the pass to the game of basketball. When the passes move quickly, I think our teams have done really well. So they’ve picked it up, but, it’s a work in progress.”
Moore’s only regret over the years? He no longer has possession of that basketball signed by the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team.
“Like our baseball cards that we wonder what our moms did with those things, my mom lost that basketball along the way.”
All things considered, Moore said, he’s okay with that.