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A joyful player, a lovable guy, a natural coach — and an unfathomable tragedy

Former UIC basketball coach Howard Moore was a delight to cover during his college days at Wisconsin. Now 49, he must bury his wife and daughter, both of whom were lost in a weekend automobile accident.

Illinois-Chicago v SMU
Howard Moore during his days as head coach at UIC.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Howard Moore made 39 baskets in four seasons as a player at Wisconsin. To the best of my recollection, all of them were dunks or layups. Nowhere on his record is there evidence of a three-point attempt. Suffice it to say, Moore was a springy forward of modest skill.

But, my, how everyone there — coaches, players, students, fans — did love him.

From 1991 to ’95, Moore was a fan favorite inside the UW Field House. Though the Chicago native and Taft alum scored only 99 points in his career, his relentless enthusiasm — most often expressed while riding the bench — was infectious. No one in the Big Ten waved a towel more often or with more gusto. No one smiled more at the successes of his teammates. No one brought more joy to game day.

I got to see it up close, as a young sportswriter who covered those Badgers teams.

Moore, 49, now in his second stint as a Wisconsin assistant coach, has been hospitalized since a weekend automobile crash in Michigan that killed his wife, Jennifer, and nine-year-old daughter, Jaidyn. Son Jerell Moore, 13, has been released from the hospital and is with family.

The Moores’ vehicle was struck by a wrong-way driver, a 23-year-old woman who died at the scene. Moore suffered severe burns in the wreck, but he was on his feet and walking Tuesday — the first steps on an unimaginable journey.

How the heart breaks for him.

College basketball fans here are far more likely to know Moore the coach than Moore the player. He was the coach at UIC from 2010 to 2015. Before that, he was an assistant at Loyola and Bradley.

When he played in Madison, a coaching future was easy to see in him. He had no illusions about playing professionally. His first year out of school, he was on the staff at Taft, maybe the best, smartest move he could’ve made.

But the summer after he graduated and before he started coaching, Moore played in a rec league, held at a Lakeview gym, that was organized by one of my former classmates and closest friends who’d been a decorated player at Lane Tech. Recent Public Leaguers, most from the North Side, were all over that gym on weekends. Moore brought along Kenny Pratt, two years behind him at Taft, who would go on to star at Iowa State.

I even finagled my way onto a roster. Moore’s skills no longer seemed “modest” to a 6-3 lummox who hadn’t even played in high school.

Take a guess who quickly became one of the most well-liked guys in that Lakeview gym. It was Moore. You bet it was. It was his gift. May it forever be.

I’M JUST SAYIN’

Was I the only North Side kid in the late 1970s and early ’80s who got yelled at by Little League coaches for unnecessarily limping down the first-base line?

I just couldn’t help it. It was an homage to the coolest Cub of the time, at least in my book: Bill Buckner.

It was nice to see so many kind words about Buckner after news broke Monday that he’d died at 69. He was a special player. Only Pete Rose had more hits in the 1970s and ’80s. Buckner worked at-bats like a master, almost never striking out, and no one ever had to encourage him to “remember the heartbeat.” Joe Maddon would’ve loved him.

Alas, a lot of folks felt the need to belittle the praise of Buckner because, apparently, sabermetrics say his career numbers don’t stack up to those of many of the power-hitting first basemen who have populated the game in recent decades.

Oh, well. Cool is cool. Buckner the Cub was one of a kind.

Sometimes, it’s better to keep the slide rule in the pocket protector and keep quiet.

u My favorite interview moment of the baseball season just might have come with White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito on Friday in Minneapolis, a day after his four-hit shutout of the Astros in Houston. It was the first complete game of his big-league career. Heck, it was the first time he’d ever pitched nine innings in any game, at any level.

I asked him if he’d slept well from the exhaustion of it all, or if he’d been so wired that he replayed the game in his head all night.

“Both,” he said.

Both? How is that possible?

“I don’t know how,” he said. “Call it a perfect combo.”

u Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada is hitting for a higher average than Padres superstar/megagazillionaire/one-who-got-away Manny Machado. Moncada has scored and driven in more runs, has a better OPS, has a better OPS+. He may even be able to explain what OPS+ is. That would make one of us.

u Warriors over Raptors in four. Unless Steph Curry and company figure out how to win the NBA Finals in three games, which is entirely possible.