Wolfpack freshman Moore making instant impact

The point guard has helped NC State to a 6-2 start

Freshman point guard Shakeel Moore had 17 points in NC State’s win over rival UNC during the first meeting between the teams (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — College basketball coaches from all across the country flocked to Moravian Prep in Caldwell County last year to watch and recruit five-star prospect Josh Hall.

But while they understandably fixated on the dynamic 6-foot-9 wing, who eventually signed with NC State, most overlooked the team’s other talented star — point guard Shakeel Moore.

Kevin Keatts wasn’t among those distracted by the shiny object.

“I’ve always felt like he was the most underrated guard in the state and the country,” the NC State coach said.

Seven games into Moore’s Wolfpack career, he’s already validating Keatts’ opinion of him.

With Hall having skipped college to go directly into the professional ranks, where he is now on a two-way contract with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, the 6-foot-1 freshman has become the most influential addition to a veteran team off to its best ACC start since 2014-15.

“He’s a great player,” junior forward Jericole Hellems said after last week’s win against Boston College. “He’s a dog. It just shows his heart, that it doesn’t matter what age he is. He’s ready to play and impact the game in whatever way he can.”

Moore’s initial impact figured to be on the defensive end of the court, where Keatts described him as having the potential to become the “best on-ball defender in our league after a couple of years.”

His offense, however, has been better than advertised.

Through Tuesday’s overtime loss at Clemson, Moore’s shooting 49% from the floor and has made nine of his 20 3-point attempts for the Wolfpack (6-2, 2-1 ACC) while showing both an ability to take over games and a fearlessness to take — and make — the big shot in a clutch situation.

His 17-point performance, punctuated by a posterizing dunk, helped the COVID-depleted Wolfpack beat rival North Carolina on Dec. 22 while earning him recognition as the ACC’s Rookie of the Week.

He then calmly sank the go-ahead basket eight days later, a pull-up jumper in the lane with 27.3 seconds remaining, to lift his team to its most recent victory, a 79-76 win against BC.

“Give our staff a lot of credit,” Keatts said. “He came in without the reputation as a guy who could make outside shots. We put a lot of work into him and Shak has put a lot of work on getting into the gym and becoming a better shooter from the outside.”

A lot of that work has come on his own between practices.

“I think it’s important to not only get better with the team but to work on yourself,” he said, attributing his improvement to the confidence he’s gained since arriving at State. “I think the confidence comes from me taking the time to work when nobody is paying attention, work when nobody is looking.

“I think I can continue as long as I keep putting in work, trusting my work, keep having that confidence. That’s all. It’ll keep the confidence going. It’ll keep everything rolling for me.”

After starting his high school career at Ragsdale High in Greensboro in 2015-16, Moore spent the next three years at Piedmont Classical before finishing up at Moravian last season.

Keatts said that the year of prep school helped prepare him, as well as fellow Wolfpack freshman Cam Hayes, to step in and make a meaningful immediate contribution.

Moore’s poise was on display in the final minute against BC with State facing a one-point deficit.

The decisive play was originally designed to get the ball inside to teammate D.J. Funderburk, who had 21 points in the game. But when the defense collapsed on the senior big man, opening up the lane, Moore made a move on his man, pulled up and knocked down the shot.

“I don’t know what other freshman would step up and take that shot with all those upperclassmen on the floor, and he stepped up and made a really huge shot for us,” Keatts said.

“Most people would have gotten tight. We were down one, we needed a big basket, and he was the guy that stepped up and made the shot.”

With his performances against BC and UNC, Moore — a three- or four-star recruit depending on which source you prefer who chose State over Providence and DePaul — has given all those recruiters that overlooked him a glimpse of what they missed.

“Guys miss on rankings all the time,” Keatts said. “I’ve made a living with some guys who probably should have been a top-75 guy. Fortunately, Shak wasn’t highly ranked, but we knew what type of player we were getting.”