Julian Moore: Rising To The Occasion
In a season that began with so much promise, not much has been going Penn State’s way on the basketball court of late.
After a scorching hot 12-1 start to the season, Big Ten conference play has been nothing short of brutal for the Nittany Lions. The team currently resides in the cellar of the Big Ten, crawling its way to a 2-8 record while toying with the hearts of its hopeful fans, who wind up leaving dejected after each heartbreaking loss.
Buried within the anguish and despair is a glimmer of hope — of youthful promise. Redshirt freshman forward Julian Moore is one of a few young Nittany Lions blossoming into impact player. Although things are tough now, we just might have a budding star on our hands.
The 6-foot-10, 215-pound Philadelphia native and Germantown Academy alum garnered a three-star ranking from 247sports, fielding offers from local names — Temple, Drexel, and La Salle — while considering a few other northeastern based schools. When it came down to it, the allure of Penn State was too good to pass up.
Moore was a key member of the 2013 recruiting class, which included Payton Banks, Geno Thorpe, and the now-departed Graham Woodward. In a class full of shooters and slashers, Moore became the lanky forward Pat Chambers had been searching for, especially after the transfer of forward Jon Graham to Maryland.
Moore’s first season in Happy Valley brought a combination of highs and lows. He saw some solid minutes early on, playing his most minutes against Penn, Longwood, and Monmouth. He notched the best game of the 2013-2014 season against Longwood, where he played 19 minutes, grabbed a season-high six boards to go with a steal and four points.
Early on, he showed flashes of promise, but as the non-conference season continued, his minutes dropped. His season came to an unfortunate end prior to the Princeton game, as Moore suffered a broken nose and had to be sidelined for the remainder of the year due to complications that arose from his injury. It was not clear what the exact complications were, but there was some good news — the NCAA awarded Moore with a medical hardship waiver, preserving his freshman status.
Moore was poised to return stronger than ever, while growing into his now 235-pound body after gaining 20 pounds during his rookie season and this past offseason.
The 2014-2015 season began with Moore coming off the bench, rotating with Jordan Dickerson in Chambers’ front court during Penn State’s early non-conference stretch. He added value as a rebounder and a shot blocker, while slowly beginning to get comfortable on offense. His stat lines weren’t out of this world –Moore averaged 0.6 points and 1.1 rebounds playing 5.1 minutes a game during non-conference play — but it was evident that something was there.
Moore saw a minor increase in minutes as Big Ten play began, but it was not until Penn State’s matchup against Rutgers that he would need to be counted on more than ever. Penn State’s front court had been significantly lacking production-wise as the team rode a six game losing skid — consistently getting pushed around in the paint — drastically altering the course of the season and creating a sense of urgency with tournament hopes slowly fading. Brandon Taylor, a key fixture in the starting five, went down with a knee injury about midway through the second half, opening a big hole in the rotation. With John Johnson already out of the lineup due to suspension, Chambers needed to rely on his young role players to pick up the slack.
Moore was on the cusp of something special in the team’s following game against Minnesota, but early foul trouble bound him to the bench for the remainder of the action. Chambers took note of Moore’s impressive play, however, and spoke highly of him in his post-game press conference.
“I felt bad for Julian, because I think you guys are about to see him step up and do some different things,” said Chambers. “He’s really skilled, and he has a big time motor. When he came in the game, you felt his presence immediately. I’m happy for [the team’s young players] because they’ve been patient, and they’ve waited their turn. Now its their turn, and they’re making the most of it.”
Chambers may have been onto something, because the Julian Moore we’ve been waiting to see arrived in a big way against Illinois. Moore had what was easily the best game of his career, scoring 10 points and grabbing four rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Nothing was more impressive than the earth-shaking putback slam he sent home after D.J. Newbill’s three went off the mark.
— Penn State on BTN (@BTN_Penn_State) January 31, 2015
Although the Nittany Lions fell to the Fighting Illini on a soul-crushing last-second layup, it seemed as though Moore was beginning to find his groove. His presence has been felt in a big way as he begins to gel with the team’s young contributors, making life much easier for Newbill, who draws double teams on a regular basis as the offensive focal point.
“Now teams can’t just focus in on me, because those guys are catching putbacks and finishing at the rim,” said Newbill. “Now we can run plays for them, instead of just plays for me. It definitely helps spread the floor some more.”
The difference from the beginning of the year to now is remarkable and has been noticed by Chambers, who has been Moore’s biggest supporter as he’s transformed from a lanky prospect to a blossoming contributor who could be on the verge of something great.
“He just knows where to be, just playing more confident and more understanding of our defense,” said Chambers. “He still has a long way to go, but he plays with a high motor, and I have confidence playing him at the four now. He’s just active, and gets a lot of stuff done. If he doesn’t get the rebound, he’s tipping it to someone else. I always knew he could get it done offensively, he just needed to relax.”
Chambers noted that Moore is becoming increasingly accustomed to the speed of the game, which he attributed to his breakout against Illinois. Unfortunately, Moore fell ill prior to the team’s matchup against Maryland, which left him unable to follow up his standout performance.
With eight games to play, Moore has ample time to build off his recent success and continue to make a name for himself as the season goes on. We may only be getting a taste of what’s to come, and with an important offseason ahead of him, this might just be the beginning.
It’s time to get excited about Julian Moore.
Photo: Bobby Chen/Onward State