Tech basketball fans who followed the team during its historic 2003-04 season could easily recall the energy that Clarence Moore brought to the team as the Jackets’ top reserve forward.
When he returned to Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Saturday as the head coach of the Kentucky State (KYSU) Thorobreds, Moore—MGT ’04, the Jackets’ sixth man and emotional leader for their run to the National Title Game—received a standing ovation from the 8,025 people in attendance.
Moore, who at 28 is one of the youngest coaches at any level of college basketball, found the idea of returning as an opponent fairly strange.
“I almost got lost and I had to have a guy take me to the visitors’ locker room. I never knew where that was,” Moore said.
The crowd offered a warm reception to the popular former player, whose life during and after his Tech career has seen a number of highs and lows.
Moore committed to Tech and then-Head Coach Bobby Cremins in 1999 after a stellar high school career in Norco, La. While there, he guided his team to back-to-back appearances in the Class AAAAA title game and won Player of the Year honors as a senior.
As a freshman in 1999-2000, Moore emerged as a reliable reserve at both forward positions. After Cremins retired and Hewitt took over Moore was expected to take on a big role before a foot injury ended his sophomore season.
He took a medical redshirt and became a starter the next year as a junior, averaging 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
After his junior season, though, personal issues began to take precedence for Moore. Homesickness, uncertainty about his future and other concerns forced him to step away from the team.
“It was something I needed to do…I had a lot of opportunities to do some soul-searching, and to ask myself if basketball was for me, and if I loved it as much as I thought I did,” Moore said.
Moore tried to transfer to a Division II school for a year and to LSU from there. Ultimately, though, he remained at Tech after sitting out the 2002-03 season.
“[The transfer] just didn’t work out. Things happen for a reason, and having those things happen pretty much told me that this was the place where I was supposed to graduate from,” Moore said.
Moore eventually decided to try to rejoin Tech’s basketball team, fueled partly by a conversation he had with Hewitt.
“I just happened to be passing through his office, and the Final Four was on…and he said, ‘If you come back next year, we could go there.’ From that point, that was my main focus, coming back and getting ready. I wanted to see if he was telling the truth and if he really believed that, and he did,” Moore said.
As a redshirt senior, Moore became Tech’s top frontcourt reserve, putting up solid rebounding and steal totals and shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.
His most prominent role, though, was as the vocal leader of a star-laden roster.
“In high school I scored 2,600 points, so it’s not like I couldn’t score the basketball…but that wasn’t my role. The year that I sat out, I gave up that responsibility,” Moore said. “I really was able to get to people, and…that was the role I had to play for that team.”
Moore still contributed on the court, though. He shined in Tech’s overtime victory over No. 4 seed Kansas, contributing 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes of action as the Jackets clinched a trip to the Final Four.
Asked about his most prominent memories from the season, Moore highlighted Tech’s victory over then-No. 1 Connecticut in the preseason NIT and the entire NCAA Tournament run, but also mentioned one other game.
“This might sound strange, but it was the Georgia game that we lost in overtime….I think it kind of helped us mature, knowing that we weren’t perfect,” Moore said.
After graduating in 2004, Moore declined a chance to stay at Tech.“[Coach Hewitt] said the graduate assistant job was open if I wanted it, but…I figured I could go out and work to make some money, then try to get back into coaching, because initially it doesn’t pay,” Moore said.
Moore cycled through a series of odd jobs, working as an electrician and shipbuilder among other things.
“I found myself wondering, why am I still not happy?…I just thought about what I love doing the most and where I would love spending most of my time, and it was basketball,” Moore said.
He signed on as an assistant coach at Paideia High School in Atlanta in 2006. A year later he got married, and he and his wife Lynn settled down in Louisville, where he was an assistant for one year at a local high school before being offered an assistant job at KYSU.
Halfway through his first season with the Thorobreds, the head coach was fired, leaving Moore holding the reins as the interim head coach. He still holds that title today.
It has not been easy for Moore, who is now in his second season as interim coach. He had no assistant coaches for part of his first season, and five of his 11 players this year did not play college basketball last season.
Moore and his players have worked to overcome their situation. KYSU has been competitive and while they are just 4-13 record through Feb. 3. five of the losses were by three or fewer points.
“Any person that knows the game of basketball and reads stat lines will know that we’re definitely right there,” Moore said. “My team has fought even when they’ve been down, and I mean really down—as low as you can go—and they’ve still found that light at the end of the tunnel.”
Moore’s description of his players’ work ethic sometimes seems to echo his own struggle for success over the years.
“In life, there’ll be times when things are good and everything’s going well, and there’ll be times when it’s just really, really bad. Some people just stop; this team has never stopped. They keep fighting, and I’m proud of them for doing so,” Moore said.
Moore is looking to secure the permanent head coaching job with the Thorobreds. He has several factors playing in his favor, including a large payout to KYSU for Saturday’s game and the strong work ethic of his team, but the “interim” tag remains.
“He’s in an interim position right now, but if they hired him I have a feeling [the players and administration would] be very happy,” Hewitt said.
“I would love to be here. But ultimately, it’s not my decision. I hope the person that has the authority to make that decision makes it…in my favor, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” Moore said.