Moore, flashing one of his frequent smiles, said he’s confident there will not be a repeat of last season’s collapse.
“We’re a lot tougher this year,” the sophomore point guard said. “We’ve got a little bit more athleticism, which is cool. We just bonded as a team really well, too. We’re getting to know each other a lot better and knowing Coach (Ken) Bone’s system.”
The senior-less Cougars plan to demonstrate their improvement Friday at “Midnight Mayhem” at Bohler Gym. Admission is free. Start time is 8 p.m. WSU students can sign up there to sit in the ZZU Crew student section at home games at Friel Court.
For the second straight year, the WSU men’s and women’s basketball teams will sign autographs, give away posters, hold short scrimmages and compete in contests for dunking (men only) and 3-point shooting (men versus women).
Friday is the first day for full men’s team practices in NCAA Division I. The NCAA permitted women to begin practicing Oct. 4 this year, although total preseason practice time remains the same for both sexes. Limited practices and conditioning sessions have been underway for weeks.
Moore was the prize recruit Bone landed as a late signee after Bone replaced Tony Bennett as coach following the 2008-09 season. Moore was often brilliant when he Cougars posted a 10-2 record against a lightweight nonconference schedule, but the freshman point guard and the team as a whole played inconsistently down the stretch and finished last in the Pac-10.
“Last year, I wouldn’t say we didn’t believe in ourselves, but this year I think we believe in ourselves to the extreme,” Moore said.
“We know what we can do and the talent we have and the key players we have and our coaching staff. Last year, we just kind of lost focus sometimes. We were really young.
"Sometimes, we didn’t know how to win games.”
The Cougars return all five starters. Forward Nikola Koprivica, who started 10 games, was the only senior on a team that finished 16-15 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-10.
Moore earned Freshman All-America honors by averaging 12.7 points and 4.2 assists per game.
“I do think a lot of people forget that I was a freshman,” Moore said. “That’s fine. Whatever.
“I think I played pretty well. I kind of had a slump at the end of the year. That’s just due to fatigue and not knowing really what to expect and mentally just being focused.
“This year, I’m pretty ready for it. I know what to expect now."
As usual, Moore worked out in the off-season with NBA players like cousin Aaron Brooks of the Houston Rockets, Nate Robertson of the Boston Celtics and Jamal Crawford of the Atlanta Hawks. All four players came out of high-profile prep basketball programs in Seattle.
“It’s good to play against them because you see them on TV and you know they’re in the NBA,” Moore said. “Once you see you can compete at their level, it’s kind of shocking. It really instills a lot of confidence in you.”
Moore said his cousin passed along some tips that Brooks picked up while touring China with veteran Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash during the summer.
“Just learning your body, not going fast all the time,” Moore said. That said, the lightning-quick Moore and Bone want the Cougars to play faster than last season. Players recruited for Bennett’s more deliberate style of offense often struggled to adapt to Bone’s up-tempo system.
“In practice, we’ve just been going up and down, so I think we’ll be a lot better at it this year,” Moore said. The Cougars have a formidable threesome in Moore, junior guard Klay Thompson and junior post DeAngelo Casto. Thompson averaged a team-high 19.6 points and made all-conference. Casto averaged 10.7 points, a team-high 7.0 rebounds and a league-high 2.2 rebounds. He made the Pac-10 All-Defensive team.
Moore said Thompson is “looking really good. He’s attacking the basket a lot more. I think he’s really getting used to that. “He’s still shooting the lights out. He’s just an all-around great player.”Moore said rumblings about Casto’s surgically repaired knee causing him any significant trouble are not true.
“He’s moving perfectly fine,” Moore said. “Some people had comments on him gaining a little bit of weight, thinking he might be slower, but he’s up there blocking all the shots.“People try to dunk on him, he’s still blockin’ ’em. He’s looking great. His hands look great. His post moves look good, too.”
Moore said Casto and power forwards Brock Motum and Abe Lodwick are among the players who have benefited from added weight and muscle. Moore said Florida junior college transfer Faisal Aden is “really good” and, like freshman forward Patrick Simon from Ephrata, “shoots the lights out."
Moore said 6-foot-6 freshman guard Dexter Kernich-Drew from Australia is “really tall and athletic.” Moore said his backup, freshman Andre Winston from Lakewood, is “a really good point guard. He’s quick -- exactly what we need.
”Moore said Fresno State transfer Mychal Ladd, a sophomore guard who must sit out this season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, is helping plenty in practice and will be a key contributor next year. Moore and Ladd were childhood friends and high school teammates at Rainier Beach, and they’re now roommates.
Ladd, a 6-5 shooting guard, might prove to be a particularly welcome addition next year if Thompson decides to bypass his senior year and enter the NBA draft.
“I definitely think he’s ready,” Moore said.
Before Thompson leaves, Moore wants the sweet-shooting SoCal product to lead the Cougars to their first conference championship since (egad!) 1941.
“I definitely want to win the Pac-10,” Moore said. “I definitely want to make it to the (NCAA) tourney, see how far we can go in there as a team.“We’ve got some really good players and we’re really starting to click.”