When your program’s mantra is “attitude” and going nothing short of 110% — to Justin Moore, it’s been a little strange having things slow down.
Sure, he remains diligent in his efforts to rehab, recover and mentor his teammates. His routine hasn’t come to a screeching halt since suffering a devastating Achilles injury in the closing moments of the Villanova Wildcats’ Elite Eight win over Houston, but he’s used to going full tilt in practice, especially this time of year, as things heat up in anticipation for season tip-off on Nov. 7.
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“We have practice every day and you wish you could be out there,” Moore said. “Honestly, it’s been fun sitting back watching the guys, and learning, but also I’ve been able to get on the court. Individual workouts, basketball-wise, so it helps calm myself a little bit that I’m actually able to work out.”
He maintains that there’s no definite timetable or updated timeline for his return, a sentiment echoed by coach Kyle Neptune, but there is a reassuring sign that his recovery has been going well. Moore isn’t back to regular practice, but he’s been doing a lot of individual work with coaches.
He says he’s been doing non-contact drills and workouts, getting shots up, lifting, and doing some jumping and other exercises to get moving.
The physical activity — combined with a few prayers, a strong support system and his faith — has helped him feel less antsy. While he continues to embrace the leadership role, one that he fully stepped into more last season, the spectator role doesn’t suit him.
“I don’t know about coaching, I’m not as patient as I should be,” Moore said, chuckling.
However, he wasn’t afraid to share some of his observations on his teammates and some of the newcomers.
“A lot of guys are putting a lot of work in,” Moore said. “Cam (Whitmore) looks great. The freshman class is a great class, Mark (Armstrong) and Brendan (Hausen) bring a lot to the table.
“The sophomore class, that’s a class that’s been really slept on because they haven’t been able to really play yet, but Jordan Longino and Angelo Brizzi, they’ve been looking great in practice so far. A lot of guys ready to step up.”
The extended time away from the sport has also given Moore time for reflection.
“You definitely, when you sit out, think about a lot of things,” Moore said. “How much the game really means to you and never take it for granted.”
Last season, he averaged 14.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. While he had been known mostly for his scoring prowess in his first couple of seasons, he became more of a well-rounded player and emerged as one of Villanova’s top defenders. Moore often took on the toughest matchups and assignments.
He was named second-team All-Big East last season, and despite his ailment, that didn’t stop coaches from giving him a spot on the preseason All-Big East second team for 2022-23.
Some consider a torn Achilles to be a death sentence for a basketball player’s career, but Moore’s mindset and psyche remain unflappable. Rust just isn’t in the equation for him. The high expectations don’t bother him either.
“I don’t think about that, there’s no pressure,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of, how good I am, and knowing that I put the work in. It’s just about me coming back and doing the right things.”
His confidence in his ability to triumph after his injury isn’t an act of bravado. It’s a resolve that he garnered back in high school, after he suffered an ACL injury as a sophomore — which could have affected his recruitment and setback his career, but it didn’t.
Suffering two major injuries throughout your athletic career could bring doubt and self-pity, but for Moore, it’s the opposite.
“That took a toll on me, but I was able to come back and play extremely well in high school,” he said of the ACL injury. “I ended up at Villanova, so I’m confident what I can do coming back.”
The conviction and confidence in Moore’s voice, plus his headstrong mentality, will calm any fear in the most panicked fan.
Whenever his return comes, you just know there’s something brewing on the horizon, and there’s just no way his senior season or career ends with a whisper after opening things up with a bang as a freshman and all of the growth and big moments that haven’t taken place since then.