Forged in the Windy City, Charlie Moore embarks on a career at Cal

Charlie Moore has drawn comparisons to another Chicago turned Berkeley point guard, Jerome Randle. (photo courtesy CalBears.com)

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.

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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.

Charlie running the point for the Mac Irvin Fire, one of the top AAU programs in the country. (photo courtesy of MacIrvin.com)

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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 Wilson growing 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.

Charlie receives a hug from his high school coach, Nick Irvin. (photo by Eddie Quinones, chicagotribune.com) 

“Big Time Hoops on Bancroft Way” - 2015-16 CAL Basketball

No. 14 CAL's season opener is Friday night vs. the Rice Owls. (Photo by John Polzer of calbears.com)

By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com

Let’s start with some perspective: In the modern era of college basketball, we’ll say after 1960, CAL basketball has appeared in the Sweet 16 just twice. Not once have they marched their way into the Elite Eight. 55 years later, the CAL basketball program is being described around the nation as a shoo-in to make the Round of 16, with realistic expectations of a Final Four run. Loaded with a starting lineup consisting of three potential NBA first rounders, a coach with a proven thirst for winning, and a fan base overdue for success, the vibe has never been better along Bancroft Way.

In his first year at the helm in Berkeley, head coach Cuonzo Martin led a relatively young group of Bears to a 7-11 mark in PAC-12 play. With the return of Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird, Coach Martin figured to have a solid core to work around for the 2015-16 campaign. Get one year bigger and stronger, sprinkle in some talented freshmen and go at it in year two. That’s the narrative most Old Blues expected to unfold. What happened next, no one could have predicted.

First, Tyrone Wallace announced he would be returning for his senior year. How Cuonzo convinced Mr. Wallace to stay is anyone’s guess. The 6’5” point guard has been described by NBA scouts as someone ready for the League. He averaged over 17 points last year in a tough PAC-12. Most expected him to move on to greener pastures, but Cuonzo convinced him otherwise. The first domino had fallen.

With senior facilitator Wallace committed for one more year, Cuonzo set off into the deep dark waters of big time college basketball recruiting in search of the biggest fish he could find. His SEC roots led him first to Georgia, where he fell in love with All-Everything Jaylen Brown. A top-five blue chip recruit destined for the NBA. A player the likes of Coach K and Calipari and Izzo all salivate over. The type of player that doesn’t move to Berkeley to play amateur basketball for a year. Cuonzo still went after him.

Yet no matter how thick of a sales pitch Coach Martin had up his sleeve, he would need one more piece of bait to reel in a player of his stature. Namely a top-10 national recruit that could help clean the glass, distract the defense and catch lobs for 40 minutes a night. That’s where Ivan Rabb came in.

At 6’11” and skilled, Rabb too had options of his own. Virtually any school in the country was clamoring for his services, namely the Arizona Wildcats. Young Ivan was still undecided when he took the floor of the California State Championship Game vs. So-Cal power Mater Dei. Conveniently, the Saturday night game was played inside Haas Pavilion, in front of a loud, passionate crowd not only rooting for a Bishop O’ Dowd win, but to “Beat L.A.” Rabb clearly enjoyed the atmosphere, winning the game in the final seconds with a clutch free-throw and bringing his Oakland high school their first state title in 34 years. As students and fans rushed the floor to celebrate the triumph, you could almost see Ivan thinking, “Hey, I could really get used to this whole scene.”

Days later, Rabb signed on to be a Bear, spurning Arizona in the eleventh hour. Now with his first big fish in the ice chest, Cuonzo got greedy and went looking for more. If the best player in the nation in Ben Simmons signed with LSU, maybe Cuonzo could convince Jaylen Brown to come to CAL.

When Cuonzo Martin speaks, people listen. (Photo by John Polzer)

How Cuonzo really convinced Brown to pick CAL is tough to tell. Some point to the fact that Cuonzo had a relationship with him during his days at Tennessee. Others claim that Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a graduate of Brown's Georgia high school, played a major role. What we do know, is that Brown took an unexpected unofficial visit to Berkeley (Brown had to pay) and took a look around the Bay Area and sat down with Coach Martin. Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan all bent over backward for the ultra-athletic swingman. But, out of nowhere, Jaylen Brown announced he would be taking his talents to Berkeley.

Suddenly, CAL boasted a starting five with three McDonald’s All-Americans (Brown, Rabb, and Bird), as well as two future pros (Wallace and Mathews). After the dust settled from Martin’s unprecedented recruiting haul, Martin said simply, “You work hard, do your job to the best of your ability and it goes back to building relationships over time. Then sometimes you’re blessed with a gift.”

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If looking at the history of CAL basketball tells us anything, it’s that talent matters a whole lot. Certainly, having phenomenal coaches like Lou Campanelli and Mike Montgomery is a blessing and a backbone for any basketball program. But, as most coaches will tell you, it’s the players on the floor that makes the most impact. When Todd Bozeman led the Bears past Duke into the Sweet 16 in 1993, he was only 29-years-old. Surely, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray were running that show. In ‘97, the last time CAL made the Sweet 16, Ben Braun was in just his first year at CAL. Safe to say Ed Gray, Tony Gonzalez, Alfred Grigsby and Randy Duck were mainly responsible for that run. As these coaches logged more experience in Berkeley, they didn’t necessarily have more success. Talent was the not-so-secret sauce.

Cuonzo Martin seems to understand this trend, judging by the way he’s pursued the best talent in the country to set up his program for success. It also doesn’t hurt that CAL’s second year head coach was a star player himself at Purdue alongside Big Dog Glenn Robinson. Neither does it hurt that he learned to coach under Gene Keady, played in the NBA, beat cancer, and navigated the mean streets of East Saint Louis as a youth. As a head coach, Cuonzo has taken struggling programs in Missouri State and Tennessee and put them back on solid ground. He’s already done exactly that during his short stint in Berkeley.  

The new-look Bears will officially take the floor for the first time together this Friday night at home versus Rice. Ranked 14th in the nation, most hoop pundits foresee a second place finish in the PAC-12 for the Bears behind mainstay Arizona. The main question marks surrounding CAL are whether they will be able to share the ball and defend consistently. Critics also wonder how accurate Jaylen Brown will shoot and how strong Ivan Rabb will be in the paint.

Most of these questions will be answered during CAL’s non-conference schedule starting this weekend. This Monday the Bears will host UC Santa Barbara of the Big West and over Thanksgiving they will square off with San Diego State former Fab-Five head coach Steve Fisher. Most likely, CAL will meet Bob Huggins and West Virginia on day two of their Las Vegas’ T-Day tourney. Other notable non-conference games include a mid-December home game vs. St. Mary’s of Moraga, an ESPN televised roadie at Virginia, and a post Christmas game against Steph Curry’s alma mater Davidson.    

Barring a disaster, CAL will be firmly in the mix when Selection Sunday rolls around in March. If all goes according to plan, the Bears will own a favorable seed heading into the Big Dance, with plenty of late-night SportsCenter highlights already under their belt. As every CAL fan can attest, what will happen in postseason play is tough to tell. God knows Bears supporters have endured their share of heartbreaking seasons (the 2015 Bears Football recent four game skid comes to mind). But will the talent Cuonzo Martin has assembled in Berkeley (he even added Steve Kerr’s son for good measure), the sky really is the limit in Berkeley.

"For the love of elevation." Jaylen Brown will wear #0 in Berkeley.

Section925 Podcast Episode 58 - Matt Cermak Talks Cuonzo Martin and CAL Basketball

(Photo by Kelley L. Cox)

(Photo by Kelley L. Cox)

Long time listener, first time caller Matt Cermak makes his Section925 Podcast debut to tell listeners the Cuonzo Martin story. Cermak, a former college golfer at Missouri State University, was lucky enough to watch Cuonzo (pronounced Con-zo) coach in The Valley Conference for three exciting years. Cermak takes us through Coach Martin's humble upbringing in East St. Louis, his battles with cancer, and his time at Missouri State, Purdue and Tennessee. Finally, Cermak weighs in on some hot topics in Bay Area sports.