Moore, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing, played with teammates who are now high school juniors, some of them high major Division I college prospects. But by the end of the summer, Poplin felt Moore was among the best players on his team.
Last week, Poplin saw Moore again, when Cox Mill played Poplin’s Hickory High team in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs. Poplin wasn’t surprised by the player he saw score 21 points in a 55-52 Cox Mill win. Moore’s performance helped propel Cox Mill (25-6) to its first N.C. 3A Western Regional final -- Saturday at UNC Greensboro against Morganton’s Freedom High (28-2).
“He’s just a tough customer,” Poplin said. “I think he’s (a future NBA) lottery pick. He’s got all the tools. God’s given him so much, and he’s so humble. He’s just got all the parts.”
Moore, 15, was named South Piedmont 3A conference player of the year and is averaging 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He’s the No. 1 recruit in North Carolina for the class of 2019 and is ranked as high as No. 16 nationally.
“He just makes everybody around him so much better,” said Cox Mill coach Jody Barbee. “He’s very humble. He doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. And he’s just getting started. He’s way beyond his years.”
Moore can play or defend every position in high school, point guard to center. He’s been considered a big-time player for awhile. When Moore was 13, USA Today ran a story with a headline “Is Wendell Moore the best 13-year-old hooper since (NBA lottery pick) Andrew Wiggins?”
Last year, Moore became one of the few freshmen that North Carolina coach Roy Williams has ever offered a scholarship. He also has offers from Charlotte, Florida, Georgia, N.C. State, Syracuse, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Moore will leave Saturday’s regional final and head to Chapel Hill for an unofficial visit to watch UNC play Duke at the Smith Center.
Earlier this year, when Kentucky coach John Calipari came to see Moore practice at Cox Mill -- just around the corner from Concord Mills Mall -- Chargers soccer players stood in the hallway peering at Calipari through the glass.
“Coach Cal played it really cool,” Barbee said. “He walked outside, but they all scattered. He says, ‘Hey, hey, come back. I’ll take pictures all day.’ ”
By now, the Cox Mill basketball players and students are used to visiting college coaches, even big names like Calipari. They’re also used to seeing their versatile young star get his teammates involved and make big shot after big shot. But a question around campus has always been about what position Moore actually plays now and in the future. Barbee said Moore’s position is just “player.”
Moore has a more specific goal.
“I’ve always wanted to be a point guard since I was little,” he said, “but most times I have been the biggest man on the floor and (had to play forward or center), but I think I can be a good point guard and I can get my teammates involved enough to do so.”
For now, though, Moore just wants to bring his school two more wins - and a state title.
“This playoff run has been crazy,” Moore said. “All the (students) are showing us love. Hopefully, all of our fans come (to Greensboro) and it’s a crazy atmosphere. Everybody is going to be there to see a good game.”
And to see what Wendell Moore will do next.
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr