Even before the men’s basketball season at Thomas Nelson began, a special year was in the making for coach Chris Moore.
First, the team is back in action after last season was canceled because of the pandemic. Second, the College’s new president has thrown her support behind the program. Third, the first home game for the Gators will be played at Warwick High School as part of ceremonies to honor Moore’s late father, a longtime basketball coach for the Raiders.
“It’s been tough,” he said of the long layoff for many of his players. “These guys haven’t seen any college action in the last year.”
Moore held workouts for players in spring 2021, but only three or four of those who participated are with the team. He noted only one person on his roster played college basketball last season. And he has no players who suited up for the Gators two years ago, when they last competed in games.
Still, Moore is excited.
“I definitely think this team is extremely talented,” he said, adding he has a good mixture of experience and youth. “A lot of talent, a lot of athleticism. … I think this team is going to be pretty special.”
Jalil Langston, who transferred from Division III Bridgewater College, is the lone player on Moore’s roster who didn’t sit out last season. The Eagles played just nine games, but Langston appeared in seven of them, starting six. He averaged 5.0 points, one season after playing in 26 games and averaging 6.7 points.
The Gators are scheduled to play 22 games overall, including seven conference games, and 10 at home. It will be their first year in the New South Athletic Conference, which they were supposed to join last season but didn’t because the season was canceled. Moore said joining that conference, as the program works its way toward National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) affiliation, is important because it gives the players a chance to have a postseason.
“It’s good to know we have something to play for now,” he said.
After starting the season with two games in the Mid-Atlantic Christian University tournament, followed by a scrimmage against Virginia State University, the Gators open at home Nov. 13 against Bryant & Stratton College.
College president Porter Brannon has designated the home opener “Family and Fun Day.” She’s buying 100 tickets to distribute to Thomas Nelson faculty and staff. Moore said that support means a lot to him and the program.
“Wow,” was Moore’s reaction to her support. “To know that she has our back, that she supports us, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to support her vision as the head men’s basketball coach. … It’s huge.”
One of his goals is to make the men’s basketball program a staple in the city, community, state and the country. He’s confident the president shares that vision but knows it is important to be done the right way.
“I think one of her visions is that we are a representative of the College, and we make sure we do it at a high level,” he said.
Before that first home game tips off, there will be a special ceremony. The basketball court at Warwick High School is being renamed in honor of Moore’s father, Ben, who died Dec. 9, 2017. The elder Moore was a prominent figure in local basketball circles, and he coached the boys' team at Warwick for 24 years. His last season was 2010-11.
Chris said he hasn’t “been able to process it yet” because he’s been working on the details, but he’s sure it will be emotional. Chris’ father knew how much his son wanted to be involved in basketball at Thomas Nelson, but died before Chris was named the coach in time for the 2018-19 season. After Ben retired from Warwick, Chris once told him he would work to get the court at the school named in his honor.
“I can’t tell you the emotions that are going to be going through me on that date, but I can tell you it is a powerful moment,” Chris said. “It’s just crazy how all of it manifested and now it’s tied together.”
The rest of the men’s home games will be played at Bethel High School. Students are admitted for free if they show their ID, and children under 12 are free. General admission tickets are $8, and the cost for faculty and staff with ID is $5. Moore’s assistant coaches this season are Zeke Avery, Theotis Porter and Jamal Solomon.
There will not be a women’s team this season because of a lack of interest. However, Dean of Student Services Betsy Harrison said the goal is to have a team next season.