The warnings kept coming — some subtle, some blunt — but as the class clown, taking things seriously was not Khory Moore’s strong suit. Surely, he thought, his success on the basketball court would override his lack of effort in the classroom at Wakefield.
By sophomore year, though, Moore’s dual role as jester and star player came to a head after Coach Tony Bentley told Moore he was academically ineligible to play at the start of the season.
“After having a good freshman year, I had a clear shot at varsity, but my mind wasn’t in the right place and I messed up with my grades,” Moore said. “When I couldn’t play basketball, it finally clicked with me that all the skipping class and getting in trouble wasn’t getting me anywhere. That’s when I woke up.”
Two years later, Moore’s epiphany has helped him terrorize opposing defenses during Wakefield’s run to the Virginia AAA semifinals.
Displaying an IQ that stretches from the court to the classroom, the senior guard fuels Wakefield’s balanced attack as its top scorer (15.8 points per game) and facilitator. The Warriors face Richmond’s John Marshall on Monday night at VCU’s Siegel Center looking to earn a spot in Friday’s title game, and Moore is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“I was at my lowest point as a sophomore and thanks to my family, coaches and teammates, it’s like I got a second chance at life,” Moore said. “Now that we’re at this point, we’re not ready for our journey to end.”
Years before Moore pulled on a Wakefield jersey, Bentley had his eye on the budding guard. As second cousins, the two often took to the court during family functions along with Moore’s two older brothers, both of whom played for the Arlington school.
Moore flashed potential as a freshman, making his mark as a scoring threat alongside good friend Ermias Nega. But for all the good Moore produced on the court, his wayward behavior and academic struggles threatened to unravel it.
“Everybody was telling him to straighten up, but he had gotten away with those things in middle school, so he didn’t believe it could get him into real trouble until he actually couldn’t play,” said Deidrich Gilreath, Moore’s older brother and a Wakefield assistant coach. “After that, even though he couldn’t play, I made him go to the basketball games to see what he was missing out on.”
It didn’t take long for the lesson to click with Moore. Instead of blowing off Gilreath’s questions about homework, Moore developed effective study habits for the classes he had previously not bothered to attend. With six games left in the 2010-11 season, Moore’s grades had improved enough for him to join the varsity squad.
In his first full varsity season, Moore averaged a team-high 15 points. The 6-foot-1 guard’s confidence grew last summer on the AAU circuit. As a member of Team Pro Look, a Northern Virginia-based squad coached by Bentley, Moore’s soft shooting touch and pure scoring ability pushed the first-year team to the semifinals of the Adidas Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas.
With hopes of improving upon the Wakefield’s 13-11 record last season, Moore brought the same aggressive offensive approach to the high school ranks. But after losing a nine-point halftime lead, and eventually the game, against National District foe Hayfield on Jan. 4, Bentley challenged his senior leader to re-evaluate his role.
“Khory had taken a lot of crazy shots in that game, so I had him in my office the next day to talk about what’s best for him and what’s best for the team,” said Bentley, who also sent a message to the entire team by banning players from the locker room and from wearing Wakefield attire for a week. “He had to realize that the best thing for the team wasn’t about how much he scored but about how much he got his teammates involved.”
“I felt like I had to do everything and try to make every play, but Coach Bentley helped me see that I didn’t have to score 30 for us to win,” Moore said. “I need to be a leader, keep the guys motivated and get everyone involved.”
During the 16-game winning streak that followed, five players led the team in scoring, building the confidence and chemistry necessary for Wakefield to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2005.
“He can put us on his back and get us back in the game or he can make plays for his teammates. It makes things a lot easier for all of us, playing with Khory,” Nega said.
Along the way, Moore earned National District Player of the Year and all-Northern Region first-team honors, bringing credence to his team-first approach.
“People will come up to me as his brother and say ‘Khory’s better than you were,’ and I tell them there’s no doubt about that,” Gilreath said with a laugh. “He’s come a long way off the court and on the court to where [after Wakefield’s quarterfinal win against Mountain View], he was excited about getting seven assists. You can tell he gets it now.”