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The Program: Meet the East Tech Scarabs, a Cleveland Team Actually Worth Rooting For

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"You got a coach who grew up down the street on 79th, went to college, twice, got a master's degree, came back to this motherfucker to help you get your ass out of here," he continues. "But you don't see it. You're consumed with all this bullshit, and then you get mad because someone cares if you were at the game? Basketball's not even at the top of the list and it's never been. It's your religion and it's your family. If you have some family shit, you have to tell someone you have some family shit going on."

After twenty minutes, the housecleaning issue is done and Moore moves on to the next issues that need addressing.

"This is what we're going to do — put these desks in a circle," Moore says. He goes to each of his players and addresses them directly: "I'm expecting you to be a lockdown defender but I don't know if you got it ... I'm expecting you to be a physical force on the boards, but you ain't got it ... I'm expecting you at some point to play to your full potential, but I don't know if you got it ... You, as much as I want you to stop thinking so much and just play basketball ..."

A few minutes later: "What we're gonna do is this — we did this last year — anybody got issues, raise their hand." Most team members put their hand in the air. "I'm gonna say this: If you don't say nothing about it today, don't say shit the rest of the season, okay? This is how it works: You address whatever or whoever the problem is and nobody else talks until your turn is up."

An hour later, everybody's lingering issues were put on the table, out in the open, ready to be addressed by Moore and their teammates. Some felt they should get the ball more. Some were down on themselves for not playing better. Some felt like there was too much criticism when they screwed up in the game and their confidence was shot. But now, it was all out there.

Moore addressed it all, breaking everything, and everyone, down before building them all back up again at the end, telling all the unconfident players what they could be, showing everybody his Facebook page, projected onto the classroom's screen, and how positively he's been talking about the kids on there.

Eventually, Moore's Facebook page gives way to game film from the loss to Ignatius. Confession gives way to emotion and closure, and basketball is again the focus.

The Scarabs haven't lost since.

Moore gave a similar talk to last year's team after losing back-to-back games mid-season. They didn't lose again until they made it to Columbus.

***

The trophy case is but one of Coach Moore's interests, and probably not even at the top of the list.

His vision for East Tech goes beyond what his kids can accomplish in high school. The program, in his vision, fully succeeds when all of his seniors get into colleges and he can consistently help them get scholarships at big-time four-year universities. That means academics and an eye toward eligibility with the NCAA.

Back in 2007, Moore called Case Western Reserve University's coach Sean McDonnell. He wanted to talk about Alfred Preston, a solid player at East Teach and an honors student who Moore thought was "Case-ready, academically." Preston went to Case, played and graduated. Now, McDonnell looks at East Tech's roster every year to see if anyone else fits the mold. It's a relationship Moore is working to build with other coaches and schools, so that they trust him when he says he has a player who would be a fit. The fact that Moore coaches at such a high level and puts such an emphasis on the fundamentals also means there isn't a steep learning curve for kids stepping onto the college court. They're ready to go now. In that vein, he's fighting a perception amongst coaches that Cleveland public school kids aren't ready. He's already been proven right.

"I contact coaches to let them know I have this player, and now we've gotten to the point that with a few coaches, anybody I mention and say is a college prospect, they'll actually give a hard look at them," Moore says.

Last year, all eight of his seniors graduated and got into college, but he feels KT Taylor should have gone to a Division I school.

"A lot of schools let KT get away. I was telling them about KT and they let him get away, and now they see what he's doing [at Division II's Notre Dame College] and I'm getting calls from schools that let some of my guys get away. The thing with this district is you're going to get a hell of an athlete, but often they're going to be undisciplined. That's why I was excited about [Ohio State quarterback] Cardale Jones doing what he did, because he's a part of that whole stigma too, that Glenville players are undisciplined, and for him to do what he did let them know that not all kids are in that mold that come out of the district. Now I can call a coach and say I got this player, or they call me to tell me they're going to look at so-and-so; because of what KT and Johnell did they now come back and look at what Anthony or whoever else is doing."

The Cardale Jones comparison is apt, especially since Moore wants East Tech basketball to be similar to Glenville football, which regularly sends kids to prestigious programs and universities every year. He wants to learn even more from Ted Ginn, who emphasizes academics, including a focus on the ACT test and bringing in specialists to work with his players, making sure they take advantage of Individual Education Plans afforded to some that allow them to take the test in chunks instead of all at once.

Moore just got his master's degree at Cleveland State, where he was taking night classes. And he places the same emphasis on the ACT that Ginn does, making his freshman players take the test to see what's ahead of them as they think about college.

"That's how they get the score: They can focus on one part, but they can't focus on all them at one time," Moore says. "They can take one part on Saturday, come back on Monday and take the other part and submit it to the ACT. What I tell those guys is don't use the IEP as a crutch, you're smart. I tell them everybody's got an IEP in something — you've got some guys who can open up the hood of a car and immediately know what's wrong with it, and because I can't do that it doesn't make me dumb. For school, it's just a time thing, and that's the accommodation that we've got. We're going to give them extra time."

H often tutors his players himself. He wants recruiters to know that East Tech players will be ready on the floor and won't be liabilities in the classroom. And for those that don't play hoops after high school, the hope is for them to still be in a position to succeed.

"My job is to set you up for when you become an everyday person," he says. "What you do in school dictates what you do as an everyday person. At some point you're going to put the basketball down."

Just having someone who'll call you out and and get on you if you skip class or don't do your schoolwork can be a huge influence on a kid's life, when many of them wouldn't have that otherwise. Those who slack off get chewed out by Coach. Just ask Cullum.

"He's teaching me off the court how to be a leader, because I don't have a person like that in my life," says Cullum.

Moore calls Cullum a "borderline genius," but thinks he's scared to show it "because it sets him apart from his friends and people don't want to stand out like that. A lot of kids grow up in this environment and don't want to stand out academically because there are negative connotations for being thought of as too damn smart. Kory could be freakishly smart if he chose to be. For Kory, it's all about what he chooses to be."

Cullum seems to understand.

"He teaches me how to be a leader, teaching me who to stay around, teaching me the stuff I'm doing on the court can reflect on life," says Cullum. "He taught me the way you start in a game or practice is going to dictate the way you finish. And what it teaches, for this school year, the way you start in the marking period is going to dictate the way you finish."

Cullum's admittedly a work in progress, but the key word there is progress, including a shot at landing with Howard University.

"Brett changed me," he says. "I didn't think I was going to go to college or nothing. I wasn't thinking about college, none of that. I thought I was going to be down in the hood, basically. I didn't know nothing but the hood. He changed my whole mindset and I think differently now and I matured a lot since I've been in this program. Don't get me wrong, I still have my ways when I get mad; I ain't perfect, but by the time this is done I should be mature enough to go to college. Brett pushes me. I can tell he really cares. Sometimes it's nerve wracking and frustrating, but at the same time, I take it in because other people don't get that. A lot of people don't get to have someone like that on their back."

***

It's Friday night, Jan. 16, and the 9-3 Scarabs are rolling on their home court, their mid-season squarely behind them. East Tech's been crushing the Senate League, undefeated in the conference so far, and tonight against a hapless John Marshall squad, it would be no different.

If there were any questions about how Tech would do (there weren't, of course), they were answered in the first 60 seconds when the Scarabs reached double digits before John Marshall was able to navigate the suffocating 1-3-1 press and advance the ball past center court. Steal-pass-dunk, steal-pass-layup, steal-pass-oop, steal-pass-jumper. Timeout.

The massive dunks from East Tech's Kory Cullum (36 points, 8 rebounds, 8 steals, 6 blocks, 4 assists), Markell Johnson (25 points, 18 assists) and Anthony Carmon (14 points, 9 rebounds) made it look like a Harlem Globetrotters/Washington Generals game played simply for the oohs-and-ahhs of an entertained crowd. Moore cleared the end of the bench in the second half, giving the kids who rarely play some solid minutes, on their way to a 121-55 game.

Yes, they scored 121 points.

Soon, junior transfer Keith Griffin will suit up for the first time. Moore is giddy with excitement about what he'll bring to the team. The Scarabs have nine more games on the schedule.

And then the real fun begins.

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