Catching up with N.C. State head coach Wes Moore
Moore was somewhere in the middle of Texas, dishing on this past season, Ace Konig, recruiting and more.
Welcome back to All in the Game, y’all.
Last week, I talked to new Navy head coach Tim Taylor about his journey to getting his first head coaching gig in Division I women’s basketball.
To check out all of my women’s basketball coverage from 2019-20, click here.
Also, I’m writing a book!
When Wes Moore hopped on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday he was far, far away from a basketball court. The Texan was on the highway in his home state. Where exactly, nobody really knew.
“I'll be honest with y'all, I just pulled over on the road and just to talk with you guys,” Moore said. “I'm somewhere in the middle of Texas — I have no clue where. But that's part of the fun of it. So, yeah, I just needed to get away.”
Don’t we all?
After some technical difficulties — he had to switch from his phone to his iPad — the N.C. State women’s basketball coach reflected on this past season, the seventh in Raleigh for the 63-year-old. The Wolfpack captured their first conference championship since 1991 by beating Florida State in Greensboro for the ACC crown and looked to be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
And then, the coronavirus came and crashed everything.
Four days after winning the ACC Championship, Moore and his team were in Reynolds Coliseum going over some film. They were heading to the court for a practice afterwards, but then word came down from the NCAA that official practices couldn’t be held. Players stayed and shot around, while the coaching staff tried to figure out what was coming next. Eventually, the NCAA pulled the plug on all sports, including its annual basketball tournaments.
Still, N.C. State earned a luxury that many teams missed out on. The Wolfpack ended their year with a victory. Next season, they’ll be hanging a banner for winning the conference tournament. No one can say what would’ve happened in the NCAA tournament, but Moore and his team can say they were ACC champs and they get to treasure the memory of celebrating with thousands of fans wearing red at the old Greensboro Coliseum forever.
“It was bittersweet, obviously,” Moore said. “To win an ACC Championship — I’m first of all thankful that we were able to get in and play all of our games. Really happy for our seniors. Several of them had been through some major injuries and adjusted roles and that sort of thing and for them to put the team first, so to speak, and to pull off something like that was really special.
“It was disappointing to not have a chance to have a run in the NCAA Tournament. But at the same time, we realized there's a whole lot more important things going on in the world right now… I told them all year, you know, we want to do some special this year. And we talked about hanging a banner in Reynolds and those sorts of things. So, to be able to do those and, for me, to be able to end the season with a win — you don't get to do that very often. So, that was kind of nice.”
While he’s been social distancing, Moore has had a chance to catch a replay of his Wolfpack’s 71-66 win over Florida State in the ACC final on the conference’s network.
“That Sunday in Greensboro was pretty neat,” Moore said. “As a coach, you don’t sometimes appreciate the game that’s being played. That fourth quarter in particular was pretty special.”
The MVP of that game was Aislinn Konig, the lone senior starter for the Wolfpack. She scored 18 points in all, but most importantly hit a transition three-pointer with 2:28 to play to tie the game. Ultimately, Konig powered N.C. State on a 13-3 run to close the game.
Considering the ramifications of the coronavirus, ending a season with a win was sweet and special for the Wolfpack. The only thing that could’ve made the end to their season better would have been seeing Konig get selected in the WNBA Draft. However, 36 picks came and went last month and Konig didn’t hear her name called.
In an interview with reporters after the draft, Konig was asked if she had talked to Moore and she sidestepped the question, giving an awkward and cryptic non-answer, leading some to believe that there was a riff between Moore and his point guard.
Moore said Thursday that he and Konig are fine, but in hindsight he wishes he had called her the night of the draft. Moore said he was on a Zoom call with a recruit and her parents the night of the draft.
“I probably should have went ahead and reached out to her that night,” Moore said. “You can’t make them draft people. That’s a business. I go back to Kiara Leslie. We had coaches at practice all the time. We had coaches and games, obviously. I was constantly getting phone calls from coaches and that sort of thing. And unfortunately, that wasn't the case with Ace, and again, I think Ace worked her tail off all she could. You can’t sometimes make yourself more athletic than what God gave you. Do I think Ace is a great player who deserves a chance? Sure. But for whatever reason, those WNBA head coaches didn’t agree.”
Moore said he’s talked to a few WNBA head coaches about getting Konig a spot in training camp, but even those chances seem slim, not just because of the impacts of the coronavirus, but also because star players in the WNBA will be making more money this season by way of the new CBA. That will lead some teams to cut corners on the back end and not carry as many players on their roster.
“I hadn’t had a whole lot of enquiries from WNBA head coaches (about Konig). We were both disappointed,” Moore said. “I spoke with (Konig) a day or two before the draft. After the draft, to be honest, she was probably disappointed I didn't reach out to her. I think everybody handles things like that differently. That's like me after a loss. I don't really want to talk to anybody.
“We're fine. I mean, I love Ace, and I think she's loved her time at NC State.”
Moore’s next task will be finding the next Konig — or at least a new starting point guard. She’ll be the lone starter that the Wolfpack has to replace this offseason, as Kai Crutchfield, Kayla Jones, All-ACC freshman Jakia Brown Turner and third-team All-American Elissa Cunane are set to return for the 2020-21 season. Moore mentioned that Crutchfield might play some point guard, and rising sophomore Kendal Moore will get a crack at the job too.
“Kendal can really shoot the ball well. What I’ve got to do a better job of and what we’ve got to help her do is be a quarterback,” Moore said. “She's used to playing in a situation where she had to score 30 every night. Now in this situation, we want our point guard to be a quarterback and get everybody involved.”
Moore also mentioned incoming freshman Genesis Bryant contributing at the point. She’s a 5-foot-8 four-star prospect from Jonesboro, Georgia, ranked by ESPN as the 23rd best point guard in the 2020 class. Moore didn’t rule out the possibility of an incoming transfer either.
This past week was a recruiting shutdown for women’s basketball, giving Moore the opportunity to hit the road to get away from texting, scouting and the latest communication tool in recruiting: Zoom calls.
When recruiting does resume, Moore is hoping to flip some of the buzz around his program into getting a few more talented players to help his Wolfpack make their first Final Four since 1998.
“I hope we take another big jump,” Moore said. “From a recruiting standpoint, we're definitely trying to stress it, you know, we finished second in the regular season behind Louisville, and then won the ACC tournament. Definitely trying to parlay that into excitement with recruits.”
Around the ACC
Lexi Duckett is leaving North Carolina after one season and transferring to Wisconsin. The 5-foot-11 guard from Daytona Beach, Florida played in 17 games this past season as a freshman. She had a season-high four rebounds vs. Illinois and a season-high six points against NC Central. Duckett is the third player to transfer from UNC this offseason, following Emily Sullivan (Florida) and Naomi Van Nes (Mercer). Rising sophomore Nia Daniel, who played 10.7 minutes per-game this past season, has also announced her intent to transfer.
Wake Forest transfer Ellen Hahne has landed at Albany.
Incoming Duke freshman Vanessa De Jesus just picked up a handful of honors as her high school season came to a close. After averaging 15 points, five rebounds, 3.8 assists and two steals per-game, the 5-foot-8 native of Valencia, California was selected Daily News All-Area First Team, Gold Coast League MVP, All-CIF Open Division First Team, All-Gold Coast League and Los Angeles Times All-Star Girls Basketball Team. De Jesus led Sierra Canyon to an 81-17 record over the past three seasons. She ranks No. 37 in ESPN’s 2020 HoopGurlz rankings. The crafty five-star recruit chose Duke over Columbia, Washington, San Diego and Gonzaga.
The Louisville Report has a breakdown here of the Cardinals’ roster heading into the 2020-21 season. I totally forgot that these three players were just stashed on Jeff Walz’s bench last year taking redshirts: Nyah Green (McDonald’s All-American), Ramani Parker (top 100 ESPN HoopGurlz), Kianna Smith (averaged 9.8 points per-game at Cal). Throw them in with Dana Evans, Elizabeth Balogun, Hailey Van Lith and Ahlana Smith. Wooooooo, buddy.
A peak at next year’s roster probably explains why two Louisville players — Seygan Robbins and Lindsey Duvall — entered the transfer portal, according to Danielle Lerner. Robbins played in two games this past season before taking a redshirt and Duvall averaged 2.1 points per-game across 23 contests. Both players are former Miss Basketball’s in Kentucky.
Iggy Allen has landed at her third school, transferring to FAU from Miami. Allen spent her freshman season at Mississippi State and appeared in the national championship game. She sat out 2017-18 with an injury, then sat out the next season due to NCAA rules after transferring to Miami. This past season, she played in 12 games for the Canes, including an effort of nine points and five rebound vs. Louisville.
At Floor Game, Ben Dull writes about how Louisville’s Kylee Shook will fit in with the New York Liberty.
Matt Ward has his never-too-early Top 25 rankings at CBS Sports. N.C. State checks in at No. 6 and a few other ACC teams follow.
Elsewhere in women’s basketball
At the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bria Felicien has a Q&A with UGA head coach Joni Taylor.
Alexa Philippou of the Hartford Courant talks to Geno Auriemma about the time he visited the Chicago Bulls’ practice.
Kim Doss writes about how Arizona’s Adia Barnes is attacking the recruiting trail for High Post Hoops.
At Power Plays, Jenn Hatfield has a terrific piece on Buffalo’s Hanna Hall.
Howard Megdal explains why Diana Taurasi is more like Kobe Bryant than Magic or Jordan.
Last Wednesday would’ve been Dale Earnhardt’s 69th birthday. At Fox Sports, Bob Pockrass runs down 10 iconic moments from NASCAR’s most iconic driver, the Intimidator. By the way, if you’re a fan of Dale, I’d recommend reading Jay Busbee’s book “Earnhardt Nation.” I breezed through it about two months ago and just couldn’t put it down. It’s a fascinating and deeply reported look at one of NASCAR’s most well-known families.
I’ve lived and covered sports in North Carolina for almost two years now, and most of the time when I covered a college game in the Triangle or Triad, Bob Sutton was there, whether it be in Chapel Hill, at Elon, at Wake Forest or in Durham. Football, women’s basketball, baseball, you name it. I don’t know Bob well, but he seemed like a ridiculously nice guy in our brief interactions. And it always seemed like he was one of the last to leave the press box. Every now and then, I’d pick up a Burlington Times-News if I had to stop there for food or gas, and Bob’s byline would be all over the sports section. This guy did everything. And after 25 years of working for that paper, Gannett decided to lay him off. It’s a major bummer and massive mistake by Gannett. Adam Smith wrote a great column about Bob for the Times-News that is worth your time.
At the Capital Gazette, Bill Wagner writes about former Navy football player Tyler Tidwell, who is battling ALS.
J. Sam Jones is a super-talented writer. Here, for SB Nation, he goes long on how refugees are finding opportunity through soccer.
Women’s Flag Football is coming to the college ranks. The NFL and NAIA are working together on a league, per the Associated Press. The Kansas City Star also has more. At his newsletter, Extra Points, Matt Brown writes about why the NAIA and NFL are doing this and why this could be a potential win for everyone involved.
I enjoyed this Washington Post interview with Ashley Eckstein, who voices Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, which just concluded its seventh season in an awesome way.
From the archives
Long before she was the head coach at Virginia, Tina Thompson was a bonafide scoring machine in the WNBA. In this clip — tweeted out recently by Kurtis Zimmerman, who publishes the awesome Across the Timeline — Thompson just bosses around the San Antonio Silver Stars with ease. Thompson was simply one of the best players the WNBA has ever seen. After a decorated career at USC, she was the No. 1 overall pick in the league’s inaugural draft in 1997 by the Houston Comets. Along with the great Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper, Thompson helped the Comets win the WNBA’s first four Finals (Yes. Four straight Finals. We deserve a 10-part documentary on that team). Thompson was a nine-time all-star, an eight-time All-WNBA selection, and averaged 15.1 and 6.2 rebounds for her career while shooting 41.7 percent from the floor, 37 percent from three and 83.2 percent from the charity stripe. She is fifth all-time in made three’s, second all-time in minutes played, third all-time in made field goals, sixth all-time in rebounds, third all-time in free throws made and second all-time in scoring, trailing only Diana Taurasi. At age 38, Thompson was a starter for the Seattle Storm and averaged 14.1 points per-game over 34 games. All of this is to say, Tina Thompson was a tremendous basketball player and we shouldn’t forget it. (Also, Taurasi and Sue Bird said that Thompson had more range than Steph Curry, which, I absolutely believe, and there’s two shots in this video that can help verify that claim.)
Stay safe. Stay inside. Y’all be good.
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