The Wendell Moore that sat courtside at the Smith Center with his parents for North Carolina’s win over N.C. State on Sunday is a different player from the one that first visited UNC a year ago.
When Moore visited for a game last February – and was offered a scholarship an hour later in Roy Williams’s office – he was a heralded but untested high school freshman at Concord (N.C.) Cox Mill.
What followed was a challenging, and humbling, spring and summer that taught him a valuable lesson.
Playing with the 16-under CP3 All Stars as a 14-year-old, he deferred to the older players and wasn’t assertive. And, thus, during the select opportunities that national scouts and reporters saw him play on the circuit, he didn’t stand out.
“Last year I took a backseat to some players and as you’ve seen my stock went down a little bit,” Moore said.
Added Cox Mill head coach Jody Barbee: “He came in as a freshman last year with a lot of hype. And I think he took a knock during the summer because the team he played on in AAU with CP3 16s, he kind of took a backseat to (eventual UNC commitment) Coby White, which is understandable – kid is older than him and he’s a lot younger than those guys.”
The lesson? Step to the forefront and be aggressive. No matter the level or age of competition, an attacking mentality on both ends of the floor will bring out the best in his game, so that was the focus of Moore and Barbee as they prepared for Cox Mill’s 2016-17 season.
“This year he knew coming in he had to do a whole lot more so we really worked on his mindset, of being aggressive, attacking,” Barbee said.
Moore explained: “That put a chip on my shoulder every time I come out to just be more aggressive and beat the guy in front of me. I just need to play like that all the time. That’s just my mindset. I know last year it was a mediocre year so this year it needs to be a whole new year to me, new mindset.”
Prior to the start of the high school season, in October, Moore got a chance to display this new approach on the national stage at USA Basketball’s Junior National Team Mini-Camp in Colorado Springs.
This time, playing among more than 50 of the nation’s top prospects in the 2017-20 classes, Moore made his mark.
“He made plays at the rim playing through contact and was steadily aggressive,” wrote Scout’s Evan Daniels at the event. “He didn’t back down going up against older competition. Showed his versatility, befitting his aspirations to be able to play all three perimeter positions. … (And he) continued to play tough, physical and look to drive the ball (on Day 2). Those assets will take him far on the college level. To come to this setting, be aggressive, and have good success bodes well for his outlook.”
The impressive play has continued into Moore’s high school season. Through 16 games of his sophomore campaign, Moore’s production is up from a year ago, reflecting his more assertive approach. He’s averaging 23.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
“Kid’s a freak, he can play,” Barbee said. “He rebounds the basketball, shares the basketball. Most unselfish kid that I’ve been around – sometimes I think he’s too unselfish. But he does rebound the ball and goes after it. He has the ability to shoot the ball from the outside and get to the rim and score.
“He’s really progressed since the fall started with us and he’s trending (up) big time.”
Moore's 6-foot-5 and 210-pound frame – with a menacing 6-11 wingspan – coupled with a versatile skillset is part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect. He seems himself as a perimeter player capable of playing multiple positions – even point guard.
It’s also worth noting that Moore is young for his grade. He’ll still be 17 years old when he enrolls in college in the summer of 2019.
North Carolina is among the colleges that recognized his upside early on, with an offer a year ago, and remains one of the most active in his recruitment.
“Maryland contacts a lot, Carolina is always in the gym, Wake Forest, Tennessee, got calls from Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia, Ohio State,” Moore said when prompted for a list. “And there are many more schools.”
While he hears regularly from Roy Williams – who most recently watched him play a couple weeks ago – assistant coach Hubert Davis has now taken the lead in Moore’s Tar Heel recruitment.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Roy, Coach (Steve) Robinson, Coach Hubert -- they are just always in the gym, always asking about me, always wanting me to come up there for visits, and I’m there a lot,” he said. “I just built a great relationship with them and know I need to keep working to get to that level.”
Moore’s ties to the school go beyond the coaching staff and include a member of the team.
“My best relationship there is probably Theo (Pinson),” Moore said. “He played with our older CP3 team. I’ve known Theo since I was in 6th grade, I talk to him all the time.”