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July 28, 2008
On the verge
E'Twaun Moore almost sheepishly admits his freshman season was "good."
"I mean," he says, "for a freshman."
Well, if talk around the Boilermakers this summer is to be believed, then Moore's sophomore season will be the year he jumps from good to great.
That's been an underlying consensus this off-season, with Moore's performances in summer workouts often being described in no uncertain terms.
"In our open-gym practices, he's unstoppable," senior big man Nemanja Calasan said. "I think he's going to show that in Australia."
That description is what Moore had in mind as he spent the summer working on his ball-handling, shooting and his offensive bag of tricks in general.
"I worked on a lot of things," Moore said. "Basically, it's about trying to be unstoppable."
Chris Kramer sees it first-hand.
The Big Ten's reigning Defensive Player-of-the-Year goes head-to-head with Moore in pick-up games regularly.
"He's one of the hardest people I've ever had to guard in my life," said Kramer, who's guarded Indiana's Eric Gordon, Michigan State's Drew Neitzel, Ohio State's Jamar Butler and Michigan's Manny Harris in the Big Ten alone, "because he's always on the attack. There's no slowing down against him, he's always going to the hole and he's always trying to score on you.
"He's definitely ready to have a great year. People saw a little bit of what he can do, but I don't think anyone's seen a lot of what he can do. He's going to have a lot of opportunities to put a lot of points on the board. ... He has a great repertoire to his game that you're going to see a lot of this year. He can score in so many ways."
To that end, it's often said of Moore that, "he can do whatever he wants," offensively, as he showed to some degree in his first season of college basketball, when he was just as adept at slithering through traffic to get to the basket or posting up a smaller guard as he was raining mid- and long-range jumpers.
Moore was Purdue's leading scorer as a true freshman, becoming the first Boilermaker rookie in decades to pull that feat off. He averaged 12.9 points for the season, but that number jumped to 14.4 in Big Ten play.
He was atypically consistent for a rookie in conference play, scoring in double-digits in 16 out of 19 Big Ten games, with three nine-point games being the only exceptions. He scored 20 or more four times, including a dominant 24-point game in a road win at Illinois, followed a few games later by a 28-point outburst at Northwestern.
Almost as significant was the fact he played more than anyone else, on a 25-win team that went nine men deep. He led Purdue in minutes played by a wide margin, at 30.6. No one else cracked 29.
The young guard was Purdue's second-leading rebounder (3.9) and tied for the team lead, with Kramer, with 56 assists in Big Ten play, producing a team-best assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1.
And his 42-percent three-point shooting landed him fourth in the league and would have been a team-best in virtually any other year. But in this case, Robbie Hummel and Keaton Grant finished 2-3 in conference standings as Purdue boasted three of the league's top four three-point percentages.
While all that in itself marked one of the finest debut seasons Purdue's seen, the Boilermakers will hope for even more now.
"It's not really something where you're asking a guy to take his game to another level," Coach Matt Painter said of the Big Ten's fourth-leading returning scorer, "because we asked a lot of him last season and he was someone we went to in tough times, and he produced. As long as he keeps competing and doing the little things he's been able to do, he's going to naturally become a better defender, he's going to naturally become stronger."
Moore said strength has been one of his off-season priorities, to which he responded by adding upwards of eight pounds of muscle, to nearly 190 pounds, in order to become more physical and better endure the physical toll of college basketball.
"The season's long," Moore said, "and you definitely have to have some muscle on your body to get through all the wear and tear."
That was a lesson learned the hard way.
In the winter, during the non-conference season, Moore leveled off and began to struggle.
But much like his team as a whole - probably not a coincidence - he put it all together around Christmas.
"Physically, he had some tough times early ... fighting through the conditioning part of it, fighting through the grind, things a lot of freshmen don't have to endure because they're not playing 30 minutes a game," Painter said. "... We saw around mid- to late January where it really started to click, where physically he started to feel better, then Illinois was a huge game for him. It got his confidence up and I think it let people around the Big Ten know he's going to be a special player for us."
(In the non-conference season - Moore's first 13 games - he averaged 11.3 points and shot 41.7 percent. In the Big Ten season that followed, those numbers were bumped up to 14.4. and 45.8, respectively. In the NCAA Tournament, he scored 15 against Baylor and 16 vs. Xavier.)
Now, the best may be yet to come.
Moore agreed that he may be on the verge of a big 2008-09.
"I hope so. That's my plan," he said. "I have to go and do it. But I definitely think I've stepped my game up."
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