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Iowa’s Moses Climbing the Basketball Mountain

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the final seconds of overtime ticked away in Iowa’s game at Indiana Thursday night, Hawkeye junior guard James Moses--a graduate of Serra High--could see the season slipping away.

Iowa’s chances of making the 64-team NCAA tournament field would be greatly reduced if it lost to the fourth-ranked Hoosiers. The Hawkeyes would be 17-8 overall and only 6-8 in Big Ten Conference play with four games remaining.

“I think if we do well the rest of the way in the conference we’ll be in,” Moses said before the game. “The Big Ten is a tough league, people get on you.”

Iowa trailed, 79-78, when Acie Earl attempted a shot from 20 feet. It missed, but teammate Chris Street got the rebound and attempted another shot, which also missed. With a second left, the 6-foot-4 Moses jumped over Indiana’s Matt Nover and tipped in the game-winning basket to give Iowa a 80-79 victory.

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“Luckily (Earl) got the shot off quickly enough that we got some rebound attempts,” Iowa Coach Tom Davis said. “And of course that’s when James got the rebound and we won the game.”

Said Moses: “This has to be the best win since I’ve been here. Because it was on the road against a team that has been beating us by 20 or more points every year.”

Iowa lost by 47 points to Indiana last season at Bloomington, Ind.

The victory could be a turning point in Iowa’s season and perhaps a personal one for Moses. It is not that Moses has not played well in his first two-and-a-half years of college basketball. The 21-year-old guard believes he has not played up to his potential.

“People know what I’m capable of doing, I just have to be more aggressive and do it,” said Moses, who is averaging 10.3 points as a Hawkeye.

On Saturday night in Iowa’s game against Illinois, Moses scored a career-high 30 points, but the Hawkeyes lost, 79-74. Moses scored 23 of Iowa’s 31 points in the final 10:53.

Moses did it at Serra after transferring from Alemany in Mission Hills. He was a three-time All-Camino Real League selection and led the CIF-Southern Section with a 34 points-per-game average his senior season, ahead of Darrick Martin and Don MacLean, now at UCLA.

But that was playing against high school teams, not Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana.

“It was an adjustment playing up here,” said Moses, who played in every game as a freshman.

Moses lists former Michigan players Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice as some of the toughest players he has played against, as well as Michigan State senior Steve Smith.

It is tough competing on the court for Moses, but he enjoys the support he receives off it from the Iowa athletic community, as well as from home, where his family watches every game by satellite dish.

“It was tough for us to see him go,” said Moses’ father, James Sr. “But when we found out all the games were on TV that made it a little bit easier.” The entire family has been back to Iowa at some point to watch Moses play.

When Moses left Carson three years ago for Iowa City, he noticed all the usual things a person from the Los Angeles area might notice in the Midwest. There were cornfields, traffic-free highways and a strange quietness after dark.

But Moses really felt he was in a different place when the Hawkeyes took the floor for his first game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The sellout crowd of 15,500 rose and cheered the Hawks for nothing more than showing up.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Moses said. “When we played UCLA (a 88-71 Iowa victory Dec. 22), their guys were surprised at how loud it was and asked if it was always that way and I said it was. They may get the crowds at UCLA but we really get the noise.

“People recognize you everywhere you go, everyone is so nice here, that’s the best part about Iowa.”

Moses said he’d like it a little more if the Hawkeyes went to the NCAA tournament. As a freshman, Moses played on the 23-10 Iowa team that lost in the second round to North Carolina State.

“It was great when we went, very exciting,” Moses said.

Exciting did not describe the Hawkeyes last season, Moses’ sophomore year. Iowa finished 12-16 and 4-14 in the Big Ten after a 7-0 start.

“We had a bad year, but we had young guys, so we’re expecting more now,” Moses said.

Moses expects a lot from himself, which explains his mild disappointment with his scoring average.

After college, Moses thinks he has a chance to play in the NBA.

“I’ve thought about it, I think I do have that ability,” Moses said. “Every summer I come home and I go up to Crenshaw High and play with some pros. They tell me I’m just as talented as they are, it’s just a matter of putting a lot of things together.”

But Moses’s life does not revolve completely around basketball. Described as a “joker” by the sports information staff, Moses is known for his easy-going manner as well as his box-like hairdo worn during his sophomore season.

Moses’ sense of humor allows him to relate well with young people, a talent that should help him in the future. He plans to be a coach and teacher when his basketball playing days are over. Moses said he would like to work in a neighborhood like the one where he grew up, where there are “good kids who need a little help.”

“Everybody likes James, and he is fun-loving,” James Sr. said. “But he gets serious when he has to. I think he would be great as a coach, he’s one of the more motivational types of players.”

“I’d like to have a positive influence on kids,” said Moses, who is an English major and is on schedule to graduate in four years. “I would tell them to be a leader and not to get a big head and I would show them that I care about them--that will wake them up.”

Then, perhaps not realizing the pun he was making with his surname, Moses pledged to help young people in the future. “I’d like to show them the way.”

Of course, he also could have been talking about his Iowa teammates and their quest for an NCAA tournament berth, which is exactly what he might end up doing.


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