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Does Size Matter?

January 10, 2002 Columns No Comments

Does Size Really Matter?

by David Mosse

When Josh Moore and his 7 foot 2, 300-pound frame set foot on the University of Michigan campus in September of 2000, he carried with him a burden of expectations. After two years of being overpowered in the rugged Big Ten and missing out on several interior recruits, Michigan had finally found their man.

Two years and several ill-advised fouls later, Moore was dismissed from the Michigan basketball team. Although head coach Tommy Amaker cited academic performance as the reason for Moore’s departure, no Michigan fan that saw him in action over the past two seasons shed a tear from hearing the news.

Moore played in 29 games for the Wolverines, starting just five. He averaged a mere 4.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in just under 11 minutes per game. He also displayed a remarkable inability to stay on the floor without getting in foul trouble. In his brief Michigan career, Moore collected more fouls (93) than rebounds (76).

A New Jersey native, Moore had taken a curious path to Ann Arbor. He verbally committed to Rutgers during his junior year of high school, but blossomed into a prized recruit following a strong senior campaign at St. Thomas Prep in Connecticut. Feeling he had sold himself short Moore waved goodbye to the Scarlet Knights and sought greener pastures, eventually landing with UCLA.

However, academic complications prevented him from ever suiting up in a Bruin’s uniform. In the summer of 2000 he and the school officially parted ways, making Moore, in essence, a free agent.

Then embattled Michigan head coach Brian Ellerbe, desperate to fill the void still left from the departure of Robert “Tractor” Traylor, pounced on Moore, bringing the big man to the Big Ten.

From the moment he arrived, Moore created a major stir. His sheer size was enough to draw stares from the student body, and when word spread of a friendship Moore had struck during his time on the West Coast with none other than Shaquille O’Neal (the two workout together during the summer), the intrigue surrounding the tallest player in Michigan history only grew.

Moore was hailed as a savior, despite the fact that no one had ever seen him play. Michigan fans were not the only ones guilty of such a miscalculation. Multiple publications wondered aloud how many years Moore would spend in a Michigan uniform before taking his size and talent to the next level.

Josh Moore should have no problem finding a new home. After all, “you can’t teach height.” He also may find a coach with the time and patience to work on the fundamentals that seem to have eluded him. And if that happens, he may someday enjoy some success in the NBA.

Yet the more likely scenario seems to be for Moore to end up the same waste of space as Luther Wright or Priest Lauderdale, other 7-footers who fell victim to society’s fascination with size.

As Moore turned in one dismal performance after another, many Michigan fans wondered aloud whether Ellerbe had even watched him play before offering him a scholarship. Ellerbe may very well have simply been enamored with the height and brute strength he possessed, and worried about the pesky details (such as actual basketball skills) later. He certainly would not be the first coach to commit such an egregious error.

It seems every year an NBA team selects a 7-foot foreigner in the draft who they immediately term a “project.” Can a team adequately judge how a player will fare in the NBA based on his performance against European competition? The answer is no. The word ‘project’ signifies the player was simply taken for his physical dimensions and the onus will be on the coach to teach him the game of basketball.

The reality is very few of these players ever amount to anything. The history of the NBA is filled with stories of underachievers and unequivocal failures. Yet the center position seems to account for more of these cases than any other. Basketball is a game of skill and being tall hardly ensures success. In fact it can serve as a crutch. Generally speaking, the bigger you are, the less agile and coordinated you will be.

A Center like Shaquille O’Neal, who possesses the footwork and athleticism of a guard, is a rare breed. The average big man is usually just that – average. If a player’s only virtue is his size, it usually means he is destined for failure.

Yet coaches continue to be fascinated with height and place their hopes on the shoulders of players with limited skills. Next June some NBA franchise will undoubtedly invest a lottery pick, and if you believe early prognosticators maybe even the top pick, on 7-foot-5 Chinese center Yao Ming. While the few who have seen Ming play offer glowing reports, their comments sound remarkably similar to those uttered about Shawn Bradley.

Undaunted, college coaches will continue to recruit 7-foot giants with questionable talent to patrol the paint. And while some of these players will develop into stars, more will end up like Josh Moore. And then there are those who will manage to disguise their flaws at the collegiate level and find themselves in the NBA, only to end up as the next Yinka Dare.

Call it the curse of Shaq, but one player’s perceived physical dominance over the rest of the league has sent basketball coaches everywhere scurrying for their own powerful big man. Yet, Josh Moore is the latest to prove that such a player is very hard to find.

After all, not even Shaq could help him.


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