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COLLEGE BASKETBALL * BIG WEST TOURNAMENTS

A Tough Game

Moore Balances School and Sport With a Child on Her Knee

March 09, 2001|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jackie Moore is impressed with herself. She should be, for many reasons.

Moore has piled up statistics instead of becoming one. She refused to let herself join the ranks of single, teenage mothers with little or no future.

So she spent Wednesday afternoon showing off. She twisted and turned and, yes, bullied her way to 20 points, helping the Long Beach State women's basketball team beat Idaho in the first round of the Big West Conference tournament.

The performance was merely a rerun of so many others she has had this season.

"I'm impressed with myself," Moore said after the game.

Moore, a senior, learned she was pregnant in the summer of 1997, two weeks after signing her letter of intent. She gave birth to her daughter, Ryshauna, that October and was back playing basketball four weeks later.

The last three years have been a struggle. Her days have started before dawn and stretched well into the evening.

"I wanted to make a difference for myself and Ryshauna," Moore said. "There were a lot of people talking in my ear, 'You can't do it.' I just wanted to shut everyone out. This is my road, these are my goals, this is how I'm going to make it."

The one person who matters was as much a handful as her mother was during the 49ers' game Wednesday at the Anaheim Convention Center. Every basket Moore scored, every rebound she denied others, went unnoticed by 3-year-old Ryshauna Lemons.

Ryshauna twisted and turned . . . out of the grasp of Moore's sister. She pushed and, yes, bullied Long Beach State President Robert Maxson, who was in charge of her . . . he thought . . . for a time.

But Ryshauna remained oblivious to the battles her mother was winning on the court, as she has been to the ones her mother has won away from basketball.

"The only thing that has pushed me is Ryshauna," Moore said. "I didn't want to be that stereotype teenage mother. 'Oh, she's not going to college, she's going to be on welfare.' My high school diploma was not going to get me anywhere. I had to make a better life for her."

Life now is so good, Moore needs sunglasses to look at her future.

She will earn a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice this spring. Michael Cooper, coach of the Sparks, has been to Long Beach games, scouting Moore. If she is not in the WNBA next season, she will certainly have her pick of offers to play overseas.

The 6-foot-2 Moore is a force. She led the conference in scoring, averaging nearly 19 points, and was an easy choice as its player of the year.

"None of us ever doubted Jackie," 49er senior forward Charel Bailey said. "It was a matter of Jackie bringing it out. She is so much more confident this year."

Few can deny Moore on the court. No one can off it.

"I'm a huge Jackie Moore fan," Maxson said. "This young lady has handled being a mother, playing basketball and school and she is doing all three very well."

Moore signed with Long Beach after graduating from Long Beach Poly High, realizing a dream of being the first in her family to attend college. She was unaware she was pregnant.

"I started feeling real woozy after workouts," Moore said. "I went to the doctor and said, 'There's something wrong.' He examined me and said, 'You're six months pregnant.' I had no idea."

Moore did what any 18-year-old might do. She panicked. She told no one. She saw her future dissolving.

"When I found out, I went, 'Oh my gosh, my scholarship is gone, I can't play basketball, what am I going to do?' " Moore said. "I stressed out for a whole month. I kept it secret from everybody. I finally called [49er assistant] coach [Rosa] Stokes and said, 'I have something to tell you. I'm pregnant.' "

Stokes calmed Moore, telling her that she still had a scholarship. Stokes told Moore to have her baby, and when she was ready, come back and play.

Moore rejoined the team four weeks after Ryshauna was born.

This was only the beginning of her odyssey. There were a few times when Moore was ready to give up.

"That freshman year was so hard on Jackie," Bailey said. "There were times she would say basketball was not for her. But I think basketball was an outlet for her."

It took a village for Moore to get through the last three years. She said Ryshauna's father remains in the picture. But she leaned on her family and friends while learning to handle her life.

"The last time I babysat Ryshauna, I painted her nails," Bailey said. "All of us on the team have taken care of her so Jackie can get some studying done."

Moore lives with her mother, Sheryl Cox, a bus driver and single mom herself with four kids. Jackie is the oldest.

Money is tight. In fact, some at Long Beach suspect that Moore has used some of her scholarship money to help out her family.

"My mom, my two sisters, my brother, my nieces, my nephews all helped," Moore said. "Being the first one in my family to go to college, everyone wanted to pitch in and help me make it."

Still, there were things Moore had to do on her own. She would get up at 4 a.m. to pack for the day. She took a 25-minute bus ride, with Ryshauna, to reach campus in time for a 6 a.m. practice.

Afternoon workouts were no easier.

"She would sometimes call two hours before a practice and say, 'Coach I'm going to be late,' " Long Beach State Coach Dallas Bolla said. "Then she'd walk in five minutes after it started. She called one time and said she had gone to the doctor at 3 a.m. and was going to be late. She was at practice. Jackie is just a real success story."

A happy ending remained uncertain; Moore was ready to quit after her sophomore season. She walked into Bolla's office and said she couldn't take it anymore. Bolla talked her into staying.

The following year, Moore had a 3.4 grade-point average. There was no more talk about quitting.

"Everything I've done has been for Ryshauna," Moore said. "Now, it's all downhill. I'm coasting. This is the easy stuff."

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