CHARLOTTE — Success has changed NC State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore.
But that’s a good thing, according to his players.
“Coach Moore is nicer, y’all,” super senior forward Kayla Jones said Wednesday at the ACC’s Women’s Basketball Tipoff media event in Charlotte. “I don’t know if he’s getting older or what, but some of the players came back this summer and they were like, ‘KJ, is he different from your freshman year?’ I said, yes, he’s more patient, he’s calm. He doesn’t turn as red.”
Moore joked that Jones only thinks he’s calmer now because she’s playing more than she did when she first arrived at State five seasons ago.
“Her freshman and sophomore year, I don’t want to say what she thought of me as,” he said with a wide grin. “Now there’s a lovefest going on.”
But he also acknowledged that because of circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and other external issues over the past year, he has become a kinder, gentler coach than he once was.
“I still think when we step between the lines for those two hours of practice, I think I’m still pretty adamant about striving for perfection and not being satisfied. But maybe all that we went through last year with COVID, with social injustice, maybe it’s made me realize how fortunate we are.”
Moore related his new attitude to a book — titled “The Coffee Bean” — he made his two-time defending ACC Tournament champion team read before the start of preseason practice.
“It talked about when you put stuff in boiling water, how do you react?” he said. “One option is you’re a carrot and you get all soft. The other is that you’re an egg and you get hard. Then the positive thing is to be a coffee bean and change the whole aroma.
“Sometimes I’ve been told I’m more of a carrot than I used to be. Maybe that’s a good thing.”
Pack of adversity
Thanks to the extra year of eligibility afforded to players by the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic — an option super seniors Kayla Jones, Kai Crutchfield and Raina Perez all excercised — State returns all five of its starters from last year’s ACC Tournament championship team.
But that doesn’t guarantee the Wolfpack will have all of them in the lineup for its challenging opening game against fellow top-10 opponent South Carolina on Nov. 9 at Reynolds Coliseum. According to Moore, there’s a good chance two of key players won’t be available.
“Kayla had surgery and is still trying to come back from it (and is) not yet 100%,” he said. “And then Jada Boyd, the other person at that (power forward) position, tore a tendon in her hand. She’s out for a couple of months, probably. So it’s started out already, having to overcome some adversity.”
The new Coach K
With Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski entering his final season before retirement, Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson — entering her first full season on the job — was asked if she’s ready to become her school’s new Coach K.
It’s a question she adeptly dodged by paying tribute to the original.
“He’s obviously one of the great, historical figures in the history of American sports,” Lawson said. “We’re all focused and hopeful that they have an awesome year and he has a good last ride in Durham.”
Lawson’s debut at Duke was cut short after four games — three of them wins — when the program decided to opt out of the rest of the season because of COVID-19 concerns. Despite not getting to coach the Blue Devils for a full season, the former Boston Celtics assistant has been busy.
This summer, she coached the U.S. women’s 3-on-3 team to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in addition to serving as a television analyst for NBC’s Olympic women’s basketball broadcasts.
White water, Carolina blue
North Carolina point guard Deja Kelly and her teammates had some concerns when she found out that coach Courtney Banghart planned to take them to West Virginia for a camping and whitewater rafting trip this summer.
“I got a lot of feedback from the players: ‘We don’t know how to swim,’” Banghart recalled. “I said the whole goal of whitewater rafting is that nobody swims.”
Sure enough, several players ended up in the water when they fell out of their respective boats.
Kelly was among them.
“I am not a big fan of water, period,” last year’s Freshman All-ACC guard said. “We hit a few bumps in the water and I seemed to be the only one (from her boat) that fell off. I didn’t like that much, but it happens. I can’t swim, so all my teammates were freaking and helping to save me. I probably sound dramatic, but (my life) definitely flashed before my eyes.”
Teammate Malu Tshitenge had a different perspective of the trip, perhaps because — unlike Kelly — she managed to stay high and dry.
“It was hard. It was scary too,” she said. “I was terrified, but it was just fun seeing each other laughing, being around each other and having a good time.
“Being able to come together and do something that we’re not used to doing, that we could find joyful, I felt like that was the point we knew this is going to be a great group, great team.”
Tribute to Kobe
Like many aspiring young basketball players, Jewell Spear tried to pattern her game after that of her favorite player, Kobe Bryant. After Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash last year, the Wake Forest star decided to pay tribute to the late Hall of Famer by wearing his number on her jersey.
“Sadly when Kobe passed, I did change my number to 24 for him,” said Spear, a 5-foot-10 sharpshooter who tied an ACC Tournament record by making seven 3-pointers in an opening round win against North Carolina last spring while earning All-ACC freshman recognition.
Spear had always worn No. 23 during her early basketball career, but it was already taken by senior forward Christina Morra when she arrived in Winston-Salem. Being a good teammate, Morra asked Spear if she wanted the number, but Spear turned the offer down.
“I didn’t want her to change it,” Spear said. “I was happy to take 24.”
Spear said her current favorite players are Steph Curry and Luca Doncic, both known for their 3-point shooting prowess.