Together they were crowned champions, apart they reunited with the world watching. Soon their NBA dreams may be realized.
Raised less than a block apart in Augusta's Sand Hill neighborhood, Ricky Moore and William Avery have climbed from local hoops legends to NBA prospects. On Wednesday, the former Westside High School duo and another area player, Thomson's Vonteego Cummings, should generate an outpouring of civic pride if they're both selected in the 1999 NBA Draft held at Washington's MCI Center.
Moore and Avery formed an unbeatable backcourt in 1995, lifting Westside High to the Class AAA state championship. Their paths split when Moore headed to the University of Connecticut and Avery went to Duke. They converged in March in a battle for NCAA supremacy.
It would be Moore's Huskies denying Avery's Blue Devils in St. Petersburg, Fla., to capture the national championship. Moore left UConn with a degree and a national title, while Avery's pro stock rose with his evolution into one of the country's elite point guards.
Despite his sophomore status, Avery is projected to be a high first-round pick. Citing financial hardship, he declared himself eligible for the draft, meaning a pair of former Westside teammates could enter the NBA together.
"I have confidence I'll do well," Avery said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play with and against the greatest players in the world."
They've been neighbors, teammates and rivals. Now Moore and Avery await the chance to be professional peers.
In Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. (televised on TNT) draft, Avery will be the featured Augustan. The 6-foot-2 point guard is expected to be a lottery pick, one of the first 13 players chosen. Avery chose to skip his final two years of eligibility to enter this year's draft, and he attracted attention with individual workouts for several NBA teams.
The lure of a multimillion dollar contract was enough for Avery to go against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's advice. Moore graduated from UConn last month but is projected to be a late pick if he's selected in the two-round draft. Cummings, an all-star performer at Pittsburgh, is rated as a low first-rounder or an early second-rounder by many draft analysts.
While Pittsburgh suffered through a 14-16 season, Cummings remained consistent. The 6-3, 190-pound guard's numbers were down slightly from his junior season, but he did average 16.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the 1998-99 campaign.
Moore, who averaged 6.8 points and 3.8 assists his senior year, is known as a defensive specialist. He is ecstatic about being close to reaching his goal of playing professionally.
"I really can't describe it," Moore said. "It's mind boggling."
By the time the Augusta natives reached Westside, former coach Ken Wright could sense their extraordinary skill and drive. Wright witnessed Moore's dogged determination and Avery's long-distance shooting ability.
The pools of sweat left on the gym floor were testimony to the dedication both players gave to their sport. Wright couldn't predict NBA futures for his students when they left Westside, but he says he believed they were destined for greatness.
"They both play with a lot of pride," said Wright, who coaches in Gatlinburg, Tenn. "Both wanted to be the best. They were my hardest workers in practice, and the rest of the kids followed their lead.
"Their work ethic set them apart from everybody else."
To commemorate the success of it's home-grown products, Augusta will rename Big Oak Park after Moore and Avery sometime in July.
Jimmy DeButts can be reached at (706) 823-3221.