By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
It’s early August in Berkeley and Charlie Moore has no idea he’s late for his scheduled interview. Seemingly oblivious of his surroundings, the soon-to-be college freshman is planted on the wing on the north side of Haas Pavilion, launching three-pointers in perfect rhythm. Rarely hitting the rim, his calm facial expression doesn’t waver. Catch, release, swish, repeat. The pattern, reminiscent of a Steph Curry pre-game warm up show at Oracle Arena, never seems to change.
By this time in the evening, members of the women’s Cal volleyball team have taken over the better part of the floor as hip-hop music engulfs the gym. The crowded floor now pushing him further into the corner, Moore remains intent on continuing his shooting bender for as long as possible. At this point, the idea of sitting down and talking about himself for 45 minutes is the last thing on his mind.
“I apologize for making you wait, I was just getting a few shots up,” Moore sheepishly explains to me when he is finally corralled off the court. His baby-face and calm voice providing all the sincerity one could ask for. Now that he’d had his daily fix of basketball, young Charlie had my undivided attention. Beside maybe on a game of NBA 2K17, the basketball junkie from Chicago had nowhere else to be.
To understand Charlie Moore’s story, it helps to first look at his resume. And the most impressive bullet point reads as follows: “2016 Illinois Mr. Basketball.” Fortunately, the accolade speaks for itself, as Moore seems to have no intention of reminding others of how good he really is.
Generously listed at 5’11”, 170, if you saw Moore walking through campus this fall, you’d surely suspect him of being a Berkeley High student sampling the college life, long before guessing he is the latest prized recruit on Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Cal basketball team. And when you learn that Moore was recently named the best player in the best basketball city in America, it almost requires a double take. This kid did what?
The last four winners of Illinois’ Mr. Basketball Award are a who's who of star players. Ryan Boatright won the award in 2011, and went on to lead UCONN to a national title in 2014. Jabari Parker won in both 2012 and ‘13, then went on to star at Duke before being drafted no. 2 overall by the Bucks. Jahlil Okafor followed in 2014 and won the national title with Duke as a freshman before going no. 3 overall to the Sixers. 2015 saw Jalen Brunson win the award and proceed to win the national title with Villanova this past season. In 2016, Moore quietly etched his name onto the prestigious list of Illinois greats.
His explanation for his success you ask? “My dad (Curtis Moore) put me in the gym at a young age, and I love basketball, so I kept myself in the gym,” says Moore. “I always stayed focused and kept working at my craft.” The simple recipe led Moore to extraordinary results on the court, and goes far in explaining his personality in general.
On the court, Moore plays with a passion and toughness you would expect from an undersized guard who grew up in the gyms of Chicago’s gritty South Side. Fearless with the ball in his hands, Moore attacks the rim repeatedly during games, often finding himself on the free-throw line completing a hard earned three point play. When he’s not throwing his body around on drives through the paint, Moore is equally comfortable launching three-pointers from well beyond the arc. He’s repeatedly squared off with Chicago’s toughest guards, in the city’s biggest games and matched or exceeded their intensity. A showman on the court, Moore often breaks out the Draymond Green signature flexing gesture after laying waste to a defender. His quiet rage sometimes bubbling over a calm, floor-general-type presence.
But off the court, there are no signs of the brutal toughness needed to succeed in the windy city Moore is from. Instead, he comes across as patient, calm and cordial. The type of person who would rather gloss over his laundry list of basketball accomplishments in favor of talking about his older brother’s master's degree classes or all the time his father put into helping Charlie improve as a youngster. A person who enjoys going to class everyday and has no qualms about staying home on a Friday night to watch his favorite show, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” It’s a simple life, and Charlie seems to like it that way.
Born and raised in basketball-crazed Chicago, Charlie quite literally had a basketball placed in his crib by his father Curtis. From day one, Charlie hardly held interest in other sports, instead following his dad’s lead and dedicating himself to hoops. A friend of the late Benji Wilsongrowing up, Curtis taught Charlie everything he knew about the game of basketball, never hesitating to drive him to another tournament or pick him up from a late-night practice across the city. If there was trouble in the neighborhood surrounding Charlie, he hardly was affected by it. “My father never let me get involved in negative things. He would drive me if I needed to get to a practice or game. He always kept me in the gym which helped a lot,” explains Charlie.
By middle school, Moore was a star on Chicago native Michael Finley’s “Bumble Bees” AAU team. By the end of his eighth grade year, Moore took a step up and was selected onto arguably the best AAU team in the country, the Mac Irvin Fire. From there, rumors of an undersized guard from Chicago with slick handles and unlimited range began to build. Moore began traveling the country with the Fire, proving himself against the best players he could find, never coming close to backing down.
For high school, Moore chose Morgan Park, a team coached by Mac Irvin’s son, Nick. It certainly didn’t take long for little Charlie to shine at the high school level, as the 5 foot 5 freshman helped contribute to a state championship for the school. As a sophomore and bigger contributor, Moore would win the state title yet again. But despite his success, major Division I colleges weren’t exactly beating down Moore’s door with offers. “Some of my offers in high school came relatively late,” explains Moore. “But Cal was definitely one of the early ones.”
When it came time for Moore’s senior season and time for him to pick a college, he was faced with his life’s biggest challenge as his father suffered through a sudden stroke and became extremely ill. While Charlie helped nurse his father back to health, he chose to follow in Derrick Rose’s footsteps and play his college ball at Memphis for young coach Josh Pastner and his assistant Damon Stoudamire. But things changed in the eleventh hour when Pastner left to coach Georgia Tech and Stoudamire was named the head coach at the University of the Pacific, leaving Moore time to reconsider his future and eventually choosing to come to Berkeley and play for Coach Martin. The tumultuous year ended with Moore averaging 28 points in his senior season, despite not meeting the team’s expectations of another state title run. But more importantly, Charlie’s dad health slowly began to improve.
When Moore takes the floor at Haas Pavilion this November he will be following in a long line of Chicago stars who have found success in Berkeley including Dennis Gates, Sean Lampley and Jerome Randle. Randle, who’s game mirrors Moore’s in both style and stature, was named the PAC-10 Player of the Year as the Bears' point guard in 2010. Naturally, Moore has looked up to Randle over the years. “Jerome and I have a great relationship. He’s a great guy and had a great career out here in California, and I have always respected the way he played coming out of Chicago,” said Moore.
Coach Martin was also thrilled to land a player like Moore when one considers that Martin fashioned himself as a resilient player from an inner-city in the Midwest (East St. Louis). In many ways, Moore sets up as perfect fit to run Martin’s offense and overall style of hard-nosed basketball he brought to Berkeley two years ago. “When people think about Chicago basketball, they think, ‘where can I get tough players that will run through a wall for me?’” explains Kurtis Ellison, Charlie’s assistant coach at Morgan Park. “That’s what Coach Martin is going to get in Charlie.”
Since Moore has moved across the country to start a new chapter of his life in Berkeley, he’s had time to reflect on the career he left behind in Chicago. One filled with record breaking performances, multiple state championships, and one “Mr. Basketball” crown. Mention him in the same breath as Chicago high school legends such as Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway and Dwayne Wade and you will likely get more nods than arguments in gyms across Illiniois. Up to this point, his body of work speaks for itself.
But now in the Bay Area, far from familiar friends and family, Moore will be forced to start over and build a new basketball legacy from scratch for west coast fans to appreciate. Fortunately for Moore, he’s more than happy to do so. Just don’t ask him to tell you about it, he’d rather prove it to you out on the court.