There are two McDonald’s All-Americans in North Carolina this season, but one N.C. recruiting expert believes the state’s best player is 6-foot-6 junior Wendell Moore Jr. from Cox Hill High School.
“As talented as he is,” said Rick Lewis, who writes for the Phenom Hoop Report, “he makes his teammates that much better. And he just wins at whatever level he plays at. They won the state championship last year and he absolutely carried them.
“They added (UNC recruit) Leaky (Black) this year and they have a really good squad, but they have never had a let down and he’s not had a letdown whatsoever.”
On Thursday, Wilson Greenfield School point guard Coby White, another a UNC recruit, was named to the Jordan Brand Classic All-American Game and was selected N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight season. On March 28, White and Providence Day point guard Devon Dotson will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, another showcase for some of the nation’s best senior players.
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Moore, who will turn 17 in September, appears to be on a similar track. He repeated as N.C. District 9 Player of the Year, an award voted on by N.C. public-school coaches. As a sophomore, Moore was the state’s public school player of the year. It would probably be surprising if he didn’t win it again this season.
Moore is averaging 25.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists. In Saturday’s 61-49 win over Greensboro Smith in the 4A semifinals, he scored 21 of his team’s 31 second-half points. He finished with 32, summoning the killer instinct his coach knew was within him.
“(Coach Jody Barbee) has been preaching that to me since I stepped into the building,” Moore said. “That when the time comes I’ve got to take over the game. Coach told me to go get the ball and make plays. Not only did I score, I got my teammates involved when they stepped up and brought the extra man.”
Barbee said Moore is the player he hoped he’d become: unselfish and accepting the challenge to be great.
“It’s becoming instinct for him now,” said Barbee, whose Chargers will face Jacksonville Northside on Saturday in Chapel Hill for the 3A state championship. “That’s what he was lacking as a freshman. We all stayed on him. He was just young and couldn’t understand how to take over games, but...I’ve never seen a kid as offensively gifted as he is and just as all-around talented.”
Moore’s father, Wendell Sr., was a 6-foot-6 sophomore on the 1976 Maggie L. Walker High state champion from Richmond, Va. That team included Clyde “The Glyde” Austin, who later played at N.C. State before a career with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Moore Sr. played in college at Christopher Newport, a Division III school in Newport News, Va. In 2005, he, Marie Moore and their only child moved to Charlotte from Richmond when Wendell was 4, partially because Moore Sr. thought the basketball opportunities for his son would be better here.
“I used to have him playing with this little Nerf hoop,” Moore Sr. said, “and I had to keep moving it up higher (on the wall) because he was dunking on it. I taught him how to drop step and he would drop step Marie at 4 years old.”
Marie Moore is 6 foot.
“At first,” Moore Sr. said, “he tried football and basketball. He had to play 10-year-old football at 9 because of his weight (being heavier than the others). He didn’t like it too much and one day he said, ‘Dad, I don’t think this is for me.’ He said, ‘I want to play basketball.’”
Moore coached his son in his early days with the Queen City Athletic Association youth basketball teams. Even then, Moore Jr. would pick up drills and plays with uncanny ease. His father believes Wendell Jr. is also handling the pressure and expectations that come with being a player of his stature the same way.
Moore was the only sophomore on the 2017 Associated Press all-state team. He won a gold medal with USA Basketball at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship last summer and has narrowed his list of potential colleges to a who’s who of major-college programs, including all four N.C. ACC programs: Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
After Saturday’s state semifinal win, Moore has 2,132 career points, just 42 from the Cabarrus County record that was set by former Concord Robinson star Lavar Batts (2,174), who’s now a freshman point guard at N.C. State.
“When you have been winning as much as he has, everybody expects that from you,” Moore Sr. said, “and if you don’t, it’s like, ‘Aw, I knew he wasn’t that good. So he’s always trying to make sure he’s at the top of his game, and he’s never selfish about it. If his team wins, the team wins. He doesn’t win on his own.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr