Originally created 07/04/99

Park dedicated to local players

Doris Moore remembers the days when she and Terri Simonton would sit in the shade at Big Oak Park and casually watch their pre-teen sons play pickup basketball.

Ricky Moore and William Avery learned the game here, on the outdoor concrete court that sits parallel to Wheeler Road near the intersection with Boy Scout Road. Within sight of their homes, they endured years of trash talk in "Shirts vs. Skins" games that meant life and death to the boys.

Augusta honored its basketball heroes at Big Oak Park on Saturday morning by naming the court Moore-Avery Basketball Court. A large sign, with green lettering, was unveiled by Mayor Bob Young, to be placed near the side of the court.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect them to do something like this," Mrs. Moore remembered Saturday. "We didn't even know if they would be high school players or not. This is just a great, great day."

"To be back home and have the park dedicated to them, it really shows how blessed they are and that they're good young men," Ms. Simonton said.

The two players led Westside High School to the 1995 Georgia Class AAA

basketball championship. Last March, Mr. Moore's University of Connecticut team defeated Mr. Avery's Duke University team at St. Petersburg, Fla., to win the NCAA Men's Championship.

On Wednesday, Mr. Avery was a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves. On Thursday, the Denver Nuggets invited Mr. Moore to try out as a free agent later this month.

The idea for the park began the day after the national championship game when Augusta Chronicle columnist Rick Dorsey suggested the court be named in their honor. Public donations made Saturday's unveiling a realization.

"One day the NBA will be known as Nothing But Augusta," the mayor remarked to a large round of applause.

About 500 people gathered for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony, including family, friends, fans, city officials and their high school coach Ken Wright, who drove down from Gatlinburg, Tenn.

They crammed onto the court to get a glimpse of their heroes. The duo spent over an hour signing autographs on ceremony programs, basketballs, Sports Illustrated covers they have appeared on, Augusta Chronicle newspapers where their stories appeared and even paper plates used for free hot dogs at a nearby grill.

One fan held high a Timberwolves jersey, already fitted with a number 5 and the name "Avery" on the back. Another fan wore his blue Connecticut jersey, with number 21 and "Moore" on the back.

"I'm just happy to be home and see William," Mr. Moore said. "It's great to see everybody supporting us and praying for us. It's just shocking, realizing I grew up here and now the park is named after me.

"Hopefully kids today will do the same thing I did: Come here every day, work hard and don't let anything discourage them. Go to school, make sure you do your homework and then practice some more."

Mr. Avery remembered a lifelong lesson learned playing pickup games at Big Oak.

"I really learned how to compete out here at a young age," Mr. Avery said. "That got me by my whole career.

"There were a lot of good players playing out here who couldn't make it. Augusta has always had the players, but guys chose the wrong road. Me and Ricky chose the right road, and hopefully some more people will be a part of it."

Mr. Avery said he will go to Minneapolis in about three weeks to find a place to live and may stay there for summer workouts.

He is likely to learn playing behind veteran point guard Terrell Brandon, who is expected to re-sign with Minnesota on Aug. 1.

His new $50,000 black Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle is sure to make the trip at some point. His mom, Ms. Simonton, also will relocate to Minneapolis. "I'm not sure what my duties will be yet," she said with a laugh.

Mr. Moore, who heads back to Connecticut on Monday, said he is still weighing his pro options. Denver has offered a free-agent tryout for mid-July, an opportunity that may depend on whether the Nuggets re-sign free-agent point guard Nick Van Exel.

Mr. Moore hopes for a second team to call. If the NBA doesn't pan out, Mr. Moore plans to try his game in Europe.

"I know where I'm from; I'll always come home," Mr. Moore said. "I'm never too bigtime to come home."

Ward Clayton can be reached at (706) 823-3337 or wardc@augustachronicle.com.


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