He doesn’t wear glasses, prefers sociology to science, and his super powers are limited to the supremely athletic movements of a Division I men’s college basketball standout.
So, when it comes to comparisons, UC Irvine senior guard Darren Moore is aligned much more with Peter Parker than the slightly nerdy comic-book everyman’s more famous alter-ego: Spider-Man.
But thanks to growing exposure of the tattooed image of a spider perched atop a web on the front of Moore’s muscle-rippled upper torso, some fans have begun referring to the Anteaters’ scoring leader and co-captain as “Spidey.”
“The nickname is starting to stick now,” said Moore, who is averaging 18 points, a team-best 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 steals, and is shooting a super-hero-like 57% from the field heading into his 4-4 team’s nonconference clash with Wyoming tonight at 7 at the Bren Events Center.
The spider tattoo, bordered by images of Spider-Man villains Venom and Carnage, is, in fact, an homage to the Marvel Comics and blockbuster-movie franchise, in which the bespectacled Parker transforms into the masked, super strong and agile Spider-Man to fight the forces of evil. It is also one of dozens of pieces of body art, most of which nearly completely cover Moore’s arms and legs.
“I’ve always liked the whole story of Spider-Man,” said Moore, who grew up frequenting a comic book store down the street from his Chino Hills home. “The story about Spider-Man really grabs me, because there are two parts to him. There’s Peter Parker, and the actual Spider-Man. Everybody thinks Peter Parker is a nobody; he thinks he’s a nobody. But when he changes into Spider-Man, he has the utmost confidence and the utmost abilities.”
The transformation is analogous to Moore’s ascension at UCI, his third college program after starring at Ayala High.
UCI, Loyola Marymount and Northern Arizona were among those who recruited the two-time All-CIF Southern Section performer out of high school. Instead, he chose to attend Northern Colorado.
But as a lean 6-foot-3, 160-pound freshman, Moore found the physical demands of the Division I game as harsh as the frigid Colorado winter. So, after averaging 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds while playing in all 28 games and starting three for the Bears, he came home and earned all-state recognition while helping Citrus Community College go 35-1 and win the 2008 state championship.
He committed to transfer to UCI while playing at Citrus, where physical maturity and devotion to the weight room helped him gain much-needed strength. The team’s dominance also helped bolster his self-esteem.
“That season [at Citrus] was the whole reason why I’m confident today,” said Moore, who made all nine field-goal attempts, including three three-pointers, in a 30-point, 11-rebound, four-steal performance to pace UCI’s 90-82 win at San Diego on Dec. 1. “I learned a whole lot there about a winning attitude and winning ways.”
Entering UCI at 190 pounds, he averaged 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in six games in 2008-09, but a torn patellar tendon sidelined him for the season and he was granted a medical redshirt.
He started all 28 games last season, averaging 11.2 points and 4.6 rebounds. The injury limited his athleticism early, he said, and the statistics speak to his improvement as the season progressed. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.8 rebounds the final nine games, hitting 22 of 38 field-goal attempts during that stretch (57.9%).
Russell Turner replaced Pat Douglass as coach last off-season, bringing a less-restrictive style of play that has helped Moore blossom further.
“I get more chances to do more and make more plays [this season],” said Moore, who noted he also responded positively to the swagger Turner has injected into the program after Douglass’ last two teams finished 14-18 and 12-19. “There’s a lot more freedom because we play a driving type of offense.”
Driving is Moore’s forte, though he has also worked hard to be an effective outside shooter (hitting 10 of 24 from three-point range, 41.7%).
“He has a real good mix right now of having the ability to make open jump shots on the perimeter and getting to the rim and finishing,” Turner said. “He has mixed his drives and jumpers at about the exact right ratio.”
Turner said Moore’s strength, length and determination help make him a handful for opponents at both ends of the floor.
“The guy is shooting 57%, so he has exceeded expectations,” Turner said. “His rebounding has exceeded expectations, too. I thought he’d be a good defender and he has been.
“I thought the change in style would help him, but I didn’t expect him to play as well as he has played as a crunch-time player for us in the games we’ve won. There’s not really any area in which he has disappointed me. I like where he is right now, but for him to be as good as he can be, he has got to stay hungry, motivated and keep that underdog mentality.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Moore, a self-confessed late bloomer, who said determination has helped him become a better player than most thought he would — helped him ditch his inner Peter Parker.
“When I was little, nobody would have ever known that I would grow up to be a basketball player at UC Irvine,” Moore said. “I’ve always played basketball, but I wasn’t always good at it. But I stuck to it and worked hard.”
It’s the kind of stick-to-itiveness at which even Spider-Man might marvel.