Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Moses builds a memory for a lifetime

He collected the final pass of his career with 8 second to play. Two choices immediately flashed through his mind:

A. Stand still and wait to get fouled, or

B. Race for the bucket and take his chances.

Matt Moses knows that Choice A was the smarter way to go, and he's nothing if not a smart basketball player. The way he shoots free throws -- he made a school record 35 in a row as a junior last season -- all but ensured that the game would be over, pushing a three-point lead into a two-possession edge.

But that also would be the easy way to go. And anybody who knows Moses can tell you that the easy way has never been his style.

So off he went, hip-to-hip with a defender. He won the race, scored the basket and put the exclamation point on the zenith of his athletic career, a 78-73 Wisconsin-Stevens Point victory over Williams in the Division III championship game at Salem Civic Center.

When the buzzer sounded, Moses put his hands to his face in disbelief, like the absentee parents on the airplane in "Home Alone." Then he dropped to his knees, reached out his palms and waited for the confetti to reach them.

"We just built," he said, "a lifelong memory."

All the memories rush back to him now. Like that first car trip to Stevens Point when he was still in high school, when he realized how far those coaches had traveled to recruit him. Or that phone call home he made during preseason workouts his freshman year, after he looked around and saw about 20 guys just as talented as he was.

"Mom? Dad?" he said that day. "I don't know if I'm going to make the team."

In a lot of ways, Moses is a D-III cliche. He's an undersized kid who starred in multiple sports at a small high school. He's a business major. He's a hard worker, a super kid, all those things.

But D-III cliches never really get old, do they? Especially when you see a guy like Moses -- the only senior in his team's starting lineup -- perform like he did Saturday, when he led the Pointers in scoring (22), rebounds (seven) and assists (three) to garner Most Outstanding Player honors of the tournament.

"It's the best feeling in world," he said. "There's no way to describe it. I put so much into this, going back to when I was in my parents' toy room with a basketball hoop, you know?

"You just have dreams as a kid. And they came true."

Granted, the dreams aren't normally set in Salem. At least not initially. Most kids in toy rooms think of Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium when they summon their imaginary greatness.

But for Moses, who joined this program after it won back-to-back national titles in 2004-05, this quickly became the vision: Finishing his career here, in our valley, getting mobbed by teammates on the civic center floor.

"I'm sure a lot of people around the world don't think as much of D-III basketball," Moses said. "But we come and work just as hard as Division II, Division I. I'm just thankful to be a part of it.

"Coach says basketball knows no levels. I'm just so appreciative of the coaches taking a chance on me, and I guess it paid off."

Pointers coach Bob Semling knew Moses had potential to become a big-time player for him. But like most in that program, Moses didn't see much action as a freshman.

He became a full-time starter last year and led the team in scoring. This year, he did it again, averaging 14.6 per game en route to the D-III final four.

Moses could barely sleep after the Pointers' semifinal victory Friday night. But he was ready from the opening tip Saturday, making 5-of-7 shots in the first half.

He canned four key free throws in the final minute. Then, of course, there was his daring layup that sealed the game.

After this celebration -- which could last a while -- all that's left for Moses is to take a job at some Fortune 500 company and live happily ever after.

"I actually have another year of college left," he said with a smile. "I'm going to take the five-year plan. I'm going to really enjoy it now.

"You know, when you're a college athlete, you don't get to soak up as much of the college experience. I'm appreciative of what I've soaked in now, and now it's time to really figure everything out and get out into the real world."

Hmm. Maybe he's no cliche, after all.

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