(EDITOR'S NOTE: The recruiting part of this story has been updated since this blog was posted Sept. 15 to reflect the changes in Ben Moore's recruitment.)
No one -- not the high-major college coaches who are filing in Bolingbrook these days, recruiting services in Illinois and beyond, Raiders coach Rob Brost and maybe not even the kid himself -- saw this coming two years ago.
Ben Moore, a 6-8 senior from Bolingbrook, has seen his reputation soar and his recruiting stock instantly rise as a result of being the classic "late bloomer" in high school hoops. Now everyone is trying to figure out if what they are hearing is fact or fiction.
There was always one big believer in Moore: Brost.
The Bolingbrook coach believed before everyone else the lanky, talented player in his program was, at the very minimum, a mid-major who could play himself up to a mid-major plus player. He talked -- jokingly pleaded? -- to the Hoops Report last fall and throughout the winter about the level Moore could play at in college, while everyone else took a conservative wait-and-see approach.
This isn't the story of the precocious eighth-grader coming into high school with high-major programs ready to pounce. He wasn't a highly-regarded prospect in the class as a freshman or sophomore. As recently as last October, Moore was just on the outside looking in of the Hoops Report's Top 25 prospects in the Class of 2013.
By the midway point of his junior year this past season he still had just one offer at the Division I level -- from IPFW. The Hoops Report had him projected as a mid-major by the end of the season and programs at that level were involved by the time the April evaluation period rolled around.
"He was patient, worked on the things he needed to work on," says Brost of his star player who averaged 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks a game this past season. "It's really a testament to him and very refreshing to see how he's worked and handled it all. He knew he was as good or better than a lot of those kids getting the offers and ranked higher. But he also knew he had to go out and prove it."
Said one Division I coach to the Hoops Report this week, "I can't believe that's the same Ben Moore as the one I saw last spring."
The jump he's made in the past 12 months has been impressive. And if you want to really pinpoint the gigantic strides he's made, you could probably reference it in a matter of weeks, not months or years. He made heads turn a time or two during the July evaluation period and then solidified himself in the opening week of open gyms for college coaches this past week. Today, he's climbed into the Hoops Report's top 10 prospects in the Class of 2013.
"I knew he was good, but I knew he was a legit high-major when we were back to school and watching him during these fall open gyms," says Brost. "He's just gotten better and better and better. He's at a completely different level than he was even a few months ago. A lot of it is his mentality. He's a different player."
College coaches aren't stupid. A mid-major program isn't going to waste the winter of a kid's junior year recruiting and evaluating and showing face if there is absolutely no shot of getting him because he's a surefire, no-brainer high-major. That's what Moore was all winter long and throughout the spring: an impressive mid-major prospect. He was just waiting to be seen.
It's a recruiting party that has grown in waves, first from low-Division I schools last winter to a group of mid-major programs this spring and summer. Now it appears to be the high-major folks stepping in. Northwestern and SMU offered Moore. Now two more high-major programs have offered after Missouri coach Frank Haith and DePaul coach Oliver Purnell stopped in for an open gym Wednesday night. And the likes of Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois have shown more than just a courtesy look of late. Illinois head coach John Groce was in the gym Wednesday with assistant coach Paris Parham. A lot will play out with this recruitment in the coming days, but Illinois is definitely intrigued and likes Moore a lot.
And of the remaining schools currently still in the mix with the fast-rising Moore, it's been Colorado State that has been the most committed and steadfast, even getting an official visit from Moore. Coach Larry Eustachy and two assistants were on hand for Moore's open gym Wednesday night.
There is a fine line between being the bubble high-major/mid-major plus player and the no-doubt-about-it high-major player. With Moore, he's slender and without any bulk, but he grew another inch to get to 6-8. While he might not be a jaw-dropping high-major athlete, he's a very good athlete with a quick bounce off the floor and a long, 7-foot wingspan. He's an improved shooter, particularly from 12-15 feet, but still has a long way to go in that area. His skills are budding, as proven by the fact he handles the ball as comfortably as a wing. But everything is still just raw enough to make high-major programs double and triple-check when evaluating him.
The fact of the matter -- and the moral of the story, really -- is that every prospect develops, improves and grows, both physically and as a player, at a different rate. Moore wasn't one who plateaued when he was 16 or 17; he started to take off.
Here is the thing about Ben Moore: No matter how long it took him to get this good, no matter how many people looked past him his first three years of high school, no matter how much work is still to be done, he is a running, dreaming, shining example of why young high school players do not need to get caught up in all the hoopla and rankings.
The rankings? They aren't always right, that's for sure. But it's also about the timing of the rankings, the development of the player and projection. Again, if it was so clear with a player like Moore six or nine months ago, he would have been in everyone's top 10 prospects in Illinois and mid-major programs wouldn't have been wasting their time. These types of recruitments happen, just not on a normal basis.
But give the credit to Moore. It took time for him to realize his potential, to grow into his body and become the player he is right now.
And it's also about the eye of the beholder and what individual people see. The mystique a prospect generates, both early in his career and then late, adds to the recruitment puzzle.
How about this one example of how rankings and recruiting at this time can be so different.
When comparing Moore to, say, Mike Shaw of De La Salle two years ago, the Hoops Report would put Moore as the better "prospect" at the very same stage -- the fall before their senior year. The difference is there was a lot more fuss surrounding Shaw than Moore at the same stage. But what does that necessarily mean? Why was Shaw all the rage and Moore just flirted with up to this point?
While it was considered blasphemy by others that the Hoops Report did not have Shaw clearly among the top 10 prospects in Illinois prior to his senior year, his recruitment was covered and analyzed to the nth degree. Shaw was, after all, once a top 10 prospect in the country in the Class of 2011. He was a top 75 player nationally heading into his senior year and was down to three high-majors: Illinois, Marquette and West Virginia.
Then there is the late bloomer in Moore who, remember, had just one Division I offer (IPFW) when the calendar turned to 2012 last January. Now high-major coaches are checking in on to make sure he's good enough at this late stage of the recruiting calendar. And they are liking what they see. What they see is a player who is just coming into his own and has untapped potential in that long 6-8 body of his.
Ben Moore, the prospect, has one of the big and tough decisions to make for a player at his level and who has developed in the way that he has. Do you stick with the programs at the mid-major plus level that have been on you longer, that you may have a more pronounced relationship with and where you will likely be able to come in and contribute earlier and be a true difference-maker? Or do you take the high-major love you're receiving and run with it, follow the dream and try to find the right fit for you to develop into the player they hope you can become down the road?
The process is now a whirlwind, an exciting ride, with the mid-major and mid-major plus programs that have been recruiting him keeping their fingers crossed and high-majors jumping in during the final stages. And why shouldn't Moore drink every last drop of the recruiting experience? He's earned it.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport