Ricky Moore’s association with Connecticut is proving to be an unbeatable combination.
Fifteen years after helping lead the Huskies as a senior co-captain to their first NCAA men’s basketball national title, Moore returned to the UConn huddle as an assistant coach. The result proved identical with the Huskies winning their fourth national title in April in Arlington, Texas.
“There isn’t much to complain about,” said the former Westside High superstar of his ongoing success with the Huskies. “There’s no place like home – especially me being a part of the first national championship to get this thing started and now being a part of it on the coaching staff. There’s not many guys who’ve won national championship as a player and a coach, especially at the same school. It’s been fun.”
Moore’s two titles in 1999 and 2014 are about as different as playing vs. coaching. The first came in one of the most anticipated championship games in history pitting No. 1 seeds Duke and UConn. The second came with UConn winning as a No. 7 seed vs. eighth-seeded Kentucky.
“They were similar in regard that nobody expected us to win,” Moore said. “The odds were stacked against us in ’99 and also this past season. We surprised a ton of people, not ourselves. We knew the work we had put in. But a lot of people didn’t expect us to make it past the first round, which I thought was funny.”
Moore played a pretty big part in UConn’s arrival as a national power, scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 37 minutes played in the 1999 title win over Duke. Those Huskies snapped Duke’s 32-game winning streak as Moore got the better of his Westside teammate William Avery in the process of the 77-74 victory.
It was a big game for Moore, who was considered a defensive weapon complimenting UConn stars Rip Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin.
“The way we played back in ’99 was all about transition and trying to beat guys back up the floor with Khalid and Rip taking the majority of the shots,” he said.
“My job was to basically hold down the fort defensively and basically just play hard. We tried to score a lot in transition.”
This UConn team succeeded with a defensive personality more like Moore’s, primarily relying on go-to superstar Shabazz Napier to make things
“We had a superstar on our team and we were going to ride him into the sunset and whatever happened we were going deal with it,” Moore said. “We didn’t try to push the ball as hard in transition. It was just a different style of play. ... This year we just kind of tried to pick you apart. Whatever we saw that the defense was vulnerable, we just tried to go at it and manipulate it.”
The formula worked at the right time. UConn failed to win its American Athletic Conference championship, losing three times to defending national champion Louisville, including an embarrassing 81-48 defeat to end the regular season on March 8 that didn’t inspire much confidence in the Huskies.
“Some people wrote us off after that game,” Moore said. “We came back and went to the drawing board and coach (Kevin) Ollie said you guys have to look yourselves in the mirror and do something about it. I think the guys took that as a challenge and came out and played the way they did.”
Coaching has always been on Moore’s long-range career plan. He spent a decade bouncing around pro leagues from the CBA to the NBDL to Europe. Stops included Germany, Turkey, Sweden, Ukraine and Austria. He won an Austrian League championship with his WBC Wels team in 2009, and a year later embarked on the next phase of his basketball career.
Moore spent two seasons as an assistant under Paul Cormier at Dartmouth from 2010-12. Then he got a call from his alma mater to return as a director of basketball operations. He moved onto Ollie’s coaching staff before last season.
Did he expect things to work out this fast?
“I’d be lying to you if I said yes,” he said. “I would like to say I’m one of the best basketball minds out there, but (laughter). I’ve been blessed to work for coach Ollie. He gave me an opportunity to come back and work here and be a part of the coaching staff. It’s a family atmosphere and I couldn’t be in a better situation.”
Moore’s relationship with Ollie goes back to his roots at UConn when the former Westside star was recruited by Jim Calhoun to replace the outgoing Ollie on the roster.
“He was still here working out at UConn and we’d play against those guys in pickup games and stuff like that,” Moore said. “I played with him when he played for the Connecticut Pride. He got a call-up and that was start of his NBA career. So we built our relationship way before the last two years.”
Moore had no qualms about being part of this title from the bench instead of on the floor.
“I think it’s a lot more draining from the screaming and yelling from the sideline,” he said. “At least when you’re on the court you can try to control some situations when you’re in the game. ... Of course I wish I was in my 20s and being able to make plays out on the floor, but my body’s telling me no. My time has come and gone and now I give advice and try to mentor these guys so they can be the best basketball players on and off the court they can be.”
How long he’ll need to apprentice before taking the reins of his own team remains to be seen. Moore is 38.
“I think that’s a great question for a lot of ADs out there,” he said. “I’m not in a rush. Am I going to take a job just to be a head coach and leave? No. It has to be the right situation.”
Work hasn’t allowed Moore a chance to return to Augusta to celebrate another title with his parents. The ring he gets will likely go into storage with the ones he earned as a player.
“I don’t really wear them,” he said. “Always trying to work trying to get the next one.”
But UConn sweeping the men’s and women’s championships for the second time in a decade (no other school has ever done it once) has made for quite a ride.
“The state just went berserk,” he said. “Our campus was crazy. The state of Connecticut can truly feel like a special place with UConn basketball because we’re going down in the record books with a bang.”
Moore played no small part in back-to-back titles 15 years apart.