Clifton Moore isn’t the first and won’t be the last local basketball star who headed out for the brightest lights — in his case, Indiana University — and then reversed course, returning to Philadelphia after a couple of seasons of mostly bench-sitting.
Talking on the phone, the 6-foot-10 Moore had just finished a soft taco wrap Wednesday, grabbing lunch with his new La Salle teammates. He’s already started summer classes, taking a public-speaking course in the first summer session. Moore will sit out next season and then have two seasons of eligibility.
He knew a couple of his new teammates a little, Moore said. He had played with Dave Beatty (Imhotep) in a Philly vs. New York all-star game, and played against Jack Clark when Moore was at Hatboro-Horsham High and Clark was at Cheltenham.
Thinking Moore failed by not staying with the brightest lights is a silly way to look at things. Tyrone Garland never would have added his Southwest Philly Floater into the local hoops lexicon if he had stayed at Virginia Tech instead of transferring to La Salle. More often than not, the transfer back works out better than staying put.
“I learned a lot from Indiana, going through the past two years,’’ Moore said. "I just decided to go in another direction. I believed in helping La Salle’s program develop, like Coach Ash [Ashley Howard] told me.”
Moore was 16 when he committed to play for the Hoosiers. Tom Crean was the coach then, but Crean was gone by the time Moore got there. His minutes weren’t much, as he averaged 1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds off the bench as a sophomore.
St. Joseph’s and others recruited Moore after he put his name in the transfer portal. As it happens, Bruiser Flint, who once coached Howard at Drexel and got Howard started on his coaching path, is a Hoosiers assistant under Archie Miller.
“I asked Coach Bru,” Moore said, aware of this prior relationship. “He had good things to say about Coach Ash, told me about him.”
What did Flint say?
“He just knew him growing up, knows he’s a good coach, has a good plan, has a good culture,’’ Moore said.
Coming home was more of a bonus than a reason for the transfer, Moore said. Sitting out next season, he’ll try to do what any player should be doing, “try to get as good as I could possibly be, every day. Learning the concepts, really getting along with the team, just fitting in.”
From an X’s-and-O’s perspective, “he has a plan for me, I feel,’’ Moore said of Howard. “Be versatile at the four, do multiple things — dribble, pass, shoot — still be able to be down in the block.”
That’s the game Moore showed in high school. He wouldn’t admit to frustrations as he sat in the Big Ten. “I learned a lot from Indiana, going through the past two years,’’ Moore said. “I just decided to go in another direction.”
But the bright lights can be blinding if you’re sitting. Bells and whistles are nice. La Salle isn’t about that. A La Salle coach from a different era told me once how he would be completely honest in his recruiting approach — “that couch you’re sitting on, it’s 20 years old. We’re not replacing it.” Even if it’s been replaced by now —maybe yes, maybe no — the approach is obvious. Players want to play.