Earlier this spring, in the weeks after the college basketball season, SMU coach Larry Brown summoned guard Nic Moore to his office. He wanted to explain an unusual idea.
Moore, the reigning American Athletic Conference player of the year, had just led the SMU basketball program to its first NCAA appearance in 22 years. With his senior season looming, Moore planned to stay in Dallas for the summer. The regular routine. He would work out with his teammates, take classes and study under Brown, the Hall of Fame coach who took over the Mustangs’ program in 2012.
Brown, though, had another proposition. Kansas coach Bill Self had called Brown, his old mentor, looking for backcourt help as the Jayhawks prepared to represent the United States at the World University Games in South Korea.
So here’s the plan, Brown told Moore. You’ll go to Lawrence in June, represent the United States in July, and return to SMU at the end of the summer.
“To be able to hear that from him, and for KU to accept me, it’s just an honor,” Moore said.
These words came on Sunday afternoon, two days after Moore first set foot on the KU campus and joined the Jayhawks in their preparation for the World University Games. In practical terms, the addition of Moore was a necessary maneuver after junior wing Brannen Greene underwent offseason hip surgery, ruling him out of the tournament. Sophomore guard Svi Mykhailiuk, a native of Ukraine, is also ineligible to play, and that left the Jayhawks with just four perimeter players, including incoming freshman Lagerald Vick.
Before offering an invitation to Moore, Self attempted to add a former KU player, such as Elijah Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor or Travis Releford. But all three were too old to compete in the age-restricted University Games, and so Self placed a call to Brown.
It is, of course, a rare setup in college basketball — something like a summer loan or short-term free-agent signing. How often do you see a standout college basketball player joining a different program for the summer? But just minutes after stepping on the floor for his first KU practice, Moore realized the transition would be seamless. Self kept saying the same things that Brown says during practices at SMU.
“He’s just another image of Coach Brown … “ Moore said of Self. “I like the way he coaches, fast tempo. What he says is like second nature to me, because I hear it every day from Coach Brown and (assistant coach Tim Jankovich). When I see Coach Self, I see them.”
Indeed, Moore’s connections to Kansas run deeper than just Brown, the former Jayhawk coach. A native of Winona Lake, Ind., the 5-foot-9 Moore drew offers from a slew of mid-major schools out of high school. He settled on Illinois State, which was coached by Jankovich, a former Self assistant at Kansas. And when Jankovich took a job under Brown at SMU in 2012, Moore followed his head coach to Dallas.
Last season, as a redshirt junior, Moore averaged 14.5 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range. The Mustangs lost a heartbreaker to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This summer, Moore will offer Self another point guard to play off junior Frank Mason and sophomore Devonte’ Graham.
“He’s real vocal,” Kansas forward Perry Ellis said. “It’s good for our team, (having) somebody that’s outspoken.”
Self has stated his desire to get back to a lineup with two small guards. In South Korea, he’s not opposed to playing all three small guards at once.
“I just want to get along with the guys, see how they play,” Moore said. “And just be able to have fun out here with them. I know I’m new; they don’t really know me. But I want to be a leader out on the floor, talk to them, and just any possible way I can help this team.”
For now, Moore is still getting used to his new surroundings. On Sunday, he signed autographs for KU basketball campers while wearing a Kansas basketball T-shirt. It had to be a strange feeling.
“I feel loved here, but I’m a Mustang at heart,” Moore said.
For the next month, though, he will be a Mustang-on-loan, a sort of quasi-Jayhawk also representing the United States. It’s a rare situation, but Moore is embracing the opportunity.
“I just want to play hard, show the guys that I’m here for them,” Moore said. (I want to) move the ball, just be a point guard and be a leader for them. Like I said, they don’t really know me, I don’t really know them all that well. But hopefully our chemistry on the court can wipe all that out.”