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Coach's mission: make UIC a basketball contender

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Howard Moore

Head men’s basketball coach Howard Moore: “Our players understand that earning their degrees is priority number one. I want my players to be socially conscious — to have a voice and also have an opinion.”

Photo: Joshua Clark

Catch this year’s team in action at the Red-Blue scrimmage Friday at the UIC Pavilion. The free event from 7-9 p.m. includes a Flames’ scrimmage plus three-point and slam-dunk contests. Free parking in the Harrison Street lot. For information, call 312-996-5880.

Howard Moore knows there’s no place like home.

Moore, who grew up on the West Side, begins his second year as head coach of men’s basketball at UIC.

“It was a chance for me to come home and be part of something special,” says Moore about accepting the Flames job last August, his first as head coach.

He had been assistant coach at Wisconsin, his alma mater, under the legendary Bo Ryan. Before that, he was an assistant at Loyola, Ball State, Bradley and the University of Chicago.

Moore, 39, played at Taft High School in the Chicago Public League, then the University of Wisconsin, where he was an undersized power forward.

Standing 6-feet-6, Moore is cool, calm and charismatic. These days, he’s walking with a bit of a swagger as the season approaches.

“I think UIC is a sleeping giant,” he says. “The academics are very strong. The backdrop is a world-class city. And now, the basketball program is just waiting to blow up and explode.”

Moore’s goal: return UIC to contender status in the Horizon League. This means knocking off the defending league champion, the Butler Bulldogs.

“Butler is the crown of the league right now. UIC, several years ago, was one of the top programs. Obviously, in the past seven years, we’ve slipped a little bit and fallen into the bottom of our conference.”

Last season the Flames struggled, going 2-16 in the Horizon League and 7-24 overall.

“I beat myself up a lot this spring and summer,” says Moore about last season. Not getting hired until late August, he adds, was “very, very difficult” in college basketball.

“But you have an opportunity, so if I just sat there and complained, and moaned and groaned, then I don’t deserve the opportunity. In a tough situation, you’ve got to get tougher with the situation.”

Moore says he’s learned from his mistakes.

“Beating Illinois last year was a great thing,” he recalls. “But what was the misstep? We thought that was the championship.

“Our guys said, ‘Wow, we’ve arrived.’ Then we struggled to win games the rest of the season. And that’s not the way you want to go.”

Moore and his three assistant coaches have already hit the road for 2012.

They’re looking to recruit good players with character who are coachable and want to win on the court and in the classroom.

“We want to get into areas like Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri — states that surround Illinois — and be a viable option,” Moore says. “We’re starting to get that exposure.”

UIC has oral commitments from three Class of 2012 recruits, including a 7-foot, 245-pound center and a 6-8, 230-pound power forward, both from Virginia.

Moore insists that his guys be involved in the community surrounding campus.

“It’s important to me because I’m from here. We won the community service award for most outstanding program in the Horizon League last year. Our goal is to win this award every year.”

He says it’s crucial that every single one of his student-athletes graduate.

“Our players understand that earning their degrees is priority number one,” says Moore, who graduated with a degree in African American studies.

“I want my players to be socially conscious — to have a voice and also have an opinion and not be just a dumb jock watching ESPN. I encourage them to watch ‘Sportscenter,’ but I also encourage them to watch CNN and CSPAN.”

All indications are that Moore has given current players and upcoming recruits the energy to be competitive in the conference this season.

“Moving forward, we’ve got the system we want in place,” he says.

What about on-the-court play?

“Defensively, we’re going to be tougher,” Moore says. “We’ve got to be able to guard people. That’s what won our games (at Wisconsin). I want to score points, but you’ve got to guard.”

If they get off to a fast start in the nonconference schedule, the Flames will kick off the second year of the Howard Moore era with upward momentum.

“The bottom line right now,” he says, “is to make sure that we’re putting forth the product that can draw top-notch athletes and student athletes from all over the country, specifically in the region and the area.

“We’re going to build this program with fourth- and fifth-year kids. I don’t want to just have one winning team and then we don’t have another winning team for another four or five years. This has to be something that’s consistent.

“We have a group of guys who are hungry and passionate. And that’s where it all begins.”


Photo: Joshua Clark

Freshman Ahman Fells takes a shot during practice last week.

Freshman Ahman Fells

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