Yes, someday COVID-19 will go away or at least be under control and college basketball will return to normal.
But what constitutes normal? The pre-pandemic world seems far away sometimes but remember there were disturbances in the force before we learned about social distancing and mitigation.
That brings us to Duke sophomore Wendell Moore, Jr. A few days ago it was announced that Moore was one of 11 student-athletes selected to be members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Player Development Coalition. Other members include ACC players Armando Bacot and Syracuse’s Bourama Sidibe and High Point’s John-Michael Wright.
Player Development Coalition? Say what?
Moore virtually met with the media Wednesday to try to flesh out some the details.
Moore had a solid freshman season for Duke, averaging 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, while displaying the potential to become a defensive stopper. Like everyone else he was devastated at the premature end of the college-basketball season.
But he didn’t go home and sulk.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only stress point this year. Moore says he was deeply impacted by the social movement widely known as Black Lives Matter. Moore is from Concord, North Carolina, one county east of Charlotte. He and his girlfriend, UNC Charlotte student Marissa Moyer, organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Concord in June.
Not the kind of thing teenagers typically do, as if anything about this year is typical.
Mike Krzyzewski was supportive.
“He said he was very proud of me,” Moore said at the time, “that it takes courage to come out and do this.”
Moore says the response has been positive.
“It means a lot to me, to know that my family and fan base is behind me.”
Anybody who has followed Krzyzewski’s long and storied tenure at Duke knows how highly he values leadership. Duke identified Moore as a leader early on and organizing and executing a peaceful protest reinforced that.
Fast forward a couple of months. Krzyzewski is active in the NABC and he thought Moore was right for this new advisory group.
“Coach approached me with the opportunity,” Moore said. “He figured this would be something that I would be good at and something really just for me to improve my leadership skills and use my voice to be heard throughout the country. The march was definitely a start to something special that I wanted to do. Having this opportunity really allows me to continue using that platform.”
Moore didn’t waste any time. Like so many elite players in this day and age he spent his summers playing AAU ball across the country. He also represented the United States in 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup.
In other words, he knows his peers.
“I’ve been in contact with a lot of my friends around the country in college basketball and with my team,” he said, adding that the communications will be on-going.
What is he hearing?
“The first thing is money, money, money. Everybody wants to get paid from this. And that’s a good thing. Another main focus is playing college basketball and how it’s going to be played and if it’s going to be played safely . . . . and we want to make it through a whole season without stopping. Everybody’s hungry to play.”
About that money, money, money thing. Moore says a wider sharing of the pie won’t destroy college basketball, it will save it.
“We want to just have an input in everything that goes in with college basketball, whether it’s how we play our games, how many games we play, the money that goes into it, what happens to the players, what happens to everything – we just want the players to get treated fairly so they don’t feel like they lose interest in their sport early that way. You see guys going to the G League and things like that. We just want to have the opportunity to keep guys in college, because college is obviously a one-in-a-lifetime experience and we want to make it that way for all athletes.”
It’s possible to be cynical about this, to see this as a one-off way to co-opt the energy of 2020 and defuse it.
Moore’s having none of that.
“With the group that we have in that committee, we’re just doing everything we can to make things easier and better for all athletes in the NCAA. Obviously, this is just the start of something special. We’re kind of the experiment group of guys to hopefully have this become a larger thing and hopefully map it out to be kind of like the NBA Players Union.”
It’s not clear how this ends, a formal report, ongoing discussions, whatever. It’s not clear when and how any suggestions will be made public. There’s already been one meeting and Moore is staying mum about the details.
“We had another meeting, just the players going about how we’re going to attack this. . . . some really good stuff. We communicate every day.”
Back in June Moore said one of the goals of that march in Concord was to “bring the noise.”
That’s still the goal.
“This is a chance to use my voice more. Having an opportunity like this helps me use my voice better.”
College athletes having a voice?
Welcome to the new normal.