Sunday, May 07, 2006
Former Booker T. Washington Star Taurean "T-Head" Moy
T-Head tells all
Legendary BTW shooting star aiming to get career, life back on the right path
By Gary Parrish
May 7, 2006
LINCOLN, Neb. -- THREE WEEKS LATER and they're still talking about it, how the little guy with the sweet stroke got going one night and delivered the best performance this 25-year-old gym has ever seen.
He made one shot, then another and another. Before anybody knew what was going on, he had smashed the scoring record, the fans watching from the aluminum bleachers were hollering, and some were yelling to others still outside to come on in and get a load of what was happening.
There were still five minutes left in the game.
"He had 77 points, and then at the buzzer he stopped at that red line and pulled," says the man who runs this league, Rob Treptow, as he points to a spot measuring 32 feet from the rim. "When it went in, everybody went crazy."
Seventy-seven plus three.
That's 80 points in one game.
He made 20-of-27 3-pointers.
Topped the league record by 14 points.
"We've had some good players come through this prison," says Winfield Barber, an assistant to the warden here at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, his head shaking in amazement. "But I don't think we've ever had anybody quite like Taurean Moy."
T-Head's tragic tale
In a metal chair in front of a green chalk board in what the people at the Nebraska State Penitentiary call a classroom, Taurean Moy sits quietly. He's wearing a UPS-colored, soft brown uniform with a white undershirt. His black boots have laces that aren't tied. His tired eyes have circles that aren't going away.
Five years ago, Moy was a Mr. Basketball winner in Tennessee, a star at Booker T. Washington High and a Bluff City legend known simply as "T-Head." Now he's a prisoner in Middle America, a Bluff City felon, an inmate serving a three-year sentence following a guilty plea to an amended charge of attempted first-degree sexual assault 713 miles from home.
"I got into a little trouble, came to the penitentiary," said Moy, his voice still filled with the South, though hardened and mature. "It's not nothing to brag about."
Quite a contrast from those good old days, when everything was something to brag about. That jumper, so pure and certain. That swagger, so clear and confident. As he came out of BTW there seemed to be no limits for this 5-11 gunner who would routinely steal passes in the backcourt, start a breakaway and opt to bury a 3-pointer rather than go in for an uncontested layup. He was that good.
Moy made headlines in 2000 when he set a national record by hitting 24 3-pointers -- for 83 points -- against Manassas. The next day, he was arrested and charged with assault and possession of marijuana.
It seemed like a small, sad story at the time. Now that 24-hour period looks like a microcosm of Moy's 24 years on Earth, of a life that started in South Memphis, that found glory on the basketball courts, that traveled through Oklahoma, and ground to a stop at 4201 South 14th Street, in the capitol of Nebraska, where pronged fences and barbed wire enclose roughly 1,100 prisoners.
You did good last night, but you done (messed) up tonight.
That's what one of the Memphis Police Department officers who arrested Moy after his 83-point performance said as he pushed the budding star into the back of a patrol car. It's an 11-word sentence that sums up a life.
"Here's a story," said Keith Easterwood, a prominent Memphis AAU coach. "It was the summer between Taurean's junior and senior year, and I was doing an AAU Tournament in Memphis. (Georgia Elite coach) Linzy Davis brought a team up here with (former University of Memphis player) Anthony Rice and (former Florida State player) Alexander Johnson and about six more Division 1 players, and before tipoff he asked me who he should watch and I told him 'that little kid over there.' He just kind of laughed, but I told him that I was serious. Then T-Head scored 42 points and beat them.
"So the next morning he's got a game at 9, and when I get to the gym there are college coaches lined up waiting to come see him, and you know college coaches, they aren't getting up and going to a gym that early for nothing," Easterwood added. "But they all wanted to see T-Head."
"He didn't show up," Easterwood said. "That's the history of Taurean Moy."
'He had other things on his mind'
On March 17, 2001, BTW beat Knoxville Austin-East and won the TSSAA Class AA state title. Despite scoring only 13 points in the championship game, Moy solidified himself as one of the great shooters to ever play in Tennessee by hitting a state-record 19 3-pointers in three tournament games, including 11 in a quarterfinal win over Chattanooga Howard.
"When Taurean shot the ball, you could bet your life it was going in," said Fred Horton, coach at BTW for 33 years. "He's not only the best shooter I've ever had, he's probably the best shooter I've ever seen."
The best a lot had ever seen, specifically at schools like Florida State, UAB and Houston, which all inquired about Moy despite his legal and academic troubles. But Moy was so far from being eligible after BTW that going straight to a Division 1 institution wasn't realistic. He never graduated from high school, and only later got his GED.
So Horton pushed Moy to enroll at Southwest Tennessee Community College instead.
"It was very important for Taurean to get into school at that time," Horton said. "I talked to him religiously about getting his body into school. But he was not mature. He had other things on his mind."
The next year, Moy didn't do much of anything. But during the summer of 2002 he enrolled at Eastern Oklahoma State Junior College and took the required classes to attain eligibility for the upcoming season. After a brief look at Moy in pickup games, Eastern Oklahoma State coach Jimmy Voight told The Commercial Appeal "the only thing that can keep (Moy) from getting to a big-time level is himself. ... So far it's a good situation."
Twelve games into the season, the good was gone. Moy was dismissed for a violation of team rules. He returned to Memphis and considered enrolling at Southwest Tennessee before opting to leave home again.
"I left Memphis because I couldn't stay focused; I knew everybody," Moy said. "So I tried to get away. That's when I came to Nebraska."
'I didn't know how old she was'
Nebraska must be the most unexciting of all the states. Compared with it, Iowa is paradise.
That's what New York Times best-selling author Bill Bryson wrote in his book "The Lost Continent." Far as Moy could tell, that made Nebraska the perfect place to relocate.
Unexciting meant no temptations or distractions. In an unexciting place, Moy wouldn't be undone by his lack of discipline. So he left Memphis around Christmas 2002, moved in with some cousins in Lincoln and developed a plan to get his life together, get into school and get on with his basketball career.
Roughly five months later -- on May 14, 2003 -- the police knocked on the door.
"It was in the afternoon, and I was in the back of the house watching TV," Moy recalled. "One of my cousins came back there and told me there were some investigators who wanted to talk with me. But I didn't think anything about it. I was like, 'Why they want to talk to me?' So I went out there, and BOOM. I was in handcuffs."
According to police records, a female told authorities Moy raped her more than a month earlier, on April 11, 2003. Moy denied this from the beginning. But he did acknowledge having consensual sex with his accuser, someone with whom he said he had "been dealing with" for about two months.
"And they told me she was 15 years old, but I didn't know that," Moy said. "I was new here, fresh in Nebraska. I didn't know how old she was."
It didn't matter, at that point. Moy was 21. The girl was 15. Moy was charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
"When I heard the sentence," Moy said, "I dropped."
Moy began his sentence at the Lincoln Correctional Center (LCC), a facility where mostly medium/maximum and/or young inmates are housed. When his security level was decreased about 18 months ago, he was transferred to the Nebraska State Penitentiary where he now lives in a dorm of sorts that hosts 90 inmates, all of whom live in one big room and sleep in bunk beds.
Moy has no bunkmate.
He sleeps on the bottom bunk.
"The bottom bunk is better because you don't have to always climb," he said. "Every time you want to get out, you just sit up and go."
As prisons go, Moy said, it's not that bad. He has daily access to phones and talks to friends from Memphis "two or three times a week," sometimes even former BTW teammates Antonio Burks of the Grizzlies and Andre Allen of the University of Memphis. There are two TVs in what is called the "Day Room." One is for movies. The other is for sports. They stay on until midnight (1 a.m. on the weekends). Sometimes they cause fights.
"There's a signup sheet for the 'Movies TV' and certain people get to sign up to watch what they want on certain days," Moy explained. "So sometimes somebody might sign up to put the TV on wrestling, and not a lot of people like wrestling. So they'll start fighting. But I don't have to worry about that. The 'Sports TV' is all I watch."
That's where Moy watches basketball. He saw the Tigers lose to UCLA (once) and the Grizzlies lose to the Mavericks (four times). And while he hated to see those hometown defeats, none of the games haunted him quite like a documentary on Blazers point guard Sebastian Telfair that aired on ESPN in March.
In prison, you're not supposed to cry.
Moy couldn't help it.
"When Sebastian got drafted and signed that Adidas contract, I felt that and shed a couple of tears," Moy said. "All he wanted to do was get his mom out of the projects and into a big house, and that's all I wanted to do too. There were just a lot of sidetracking things that kept me from doing it."
Teresa Moy -- Taurean's mother -- breaks up at this story. She's a single mom and wants what any other mom wants.
"I never needed that house," she said. "I just want my son to succeed in life at whatever. I want Taurean to make it for Taurean. I just want my son to be happy."
Today is a big day at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. They'll play the semifinals and the finals of the "The Buddy League Tournament," the formal, prison-version of May Madness with refs and a stat crew and everything.
Moy led the league in scoring by averaging 31.7 points per game in the regular season. His team finished 12-2. That earned the No. 1 seed.
"But I didn't play in the two losses," Moy said. "That's why we lost."
The semifinals are at 1 p.m. The championship game is at 5. Everybody expects Showtime to take the title.
Where's Moy going to celebrate?
He's set to be released from prison Thursday.
"I might have to catch the bus," Moy said. "But I want to get there as quickly as possible."
Moy has a 4-year-old son (Taurean Jr.) and a 2-year-old daughter (Tariunna). Both children are mothered by Moy's high school girlfriend, Mildred Redmond. He has never met his daughter.
"But Mildred always shows the kids pictures of me, and when I talk to them they always call me 'Daddy,'" Moy said. "Kids are smart. Mildred has shown my daughter pictures of me and told her I'm her dad. She'll know me when she sees me."
As will college coaches.
According to people within the basketball community, there are already a handful of schools trying to figure out a way to get Moy into their program. It may be a Division 2 or an NAIA institution. It may be a junior college. But it's not a stretch to suggest that six months after leading the Nebraska State Penitentiary in scoring, Moy will be playing college basketball somewhere next season.
"It's going to take a particular place," Easterwood said. "It's going to have to be a place where the president, athletic director and coach know what they're getting and understand what they're dealing with. But somebody will give him a chance. He can play."
"I'm not going to be surprised when in a year from now you're writing another article about Taurean putting up some sick-type numbers," said Moy's friend, Kevin Cheatham. "Wherever he plays, a lot of records are going to be in jeopardy."
Cheatham -- known around South Memphis simply as "Catman" -- is the person Moy talks to most regularly from prison. He worked at the Southside Boys and Girls Club when Moy was in elementary school and became something of a mentor.
"Catman was the one who always told me that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to get where you want to be, and now I really understand what that means," Moy said. "I hear him now. Back then I was just listening, but I wasn't understanding because I was just living in the fame of being T-Head. But now -- and this is why I know I'm a better person now -- I can sit and think about things like that. Now when I get out I know I'll be a better person. I have kids. I can't live for the streets anymore. I have to live for me and my kids, do the right things and be a success story."
On Monday and Wednesday of each week new inmates are brought to the penitentiary. Upon arriving, they sit in a holding area and wait for assignment.
"T-Head!" yelled one of the new inmates when he saw Moy walking by last Monday. "I didn't know you were still in here."
The two talked for a moment. The new inmate is Randy Billups, who claimed to be the cousin of Pistons star Chauncey Billups and remembered Moy from when they were both at the Lincoln Correctional Center.
"I've been telling people about your talent, man; I've been bragging on you," Billups told Moy. "I've been telling them you're going to get out of here and do your thing."
T-Head just nodded his head. Then he sat down on a wooden bench and waited for an officer to escort him back to his bunk bed, that bottom bunk, the one that allows you -- as Moy described it -- to just get up and go.
Shortly, he'll do that for good.
At least, he hopes so.
"I would still like to buy my mom that big house," Moy said. "I want to play basketball. I want to make it. I don't want to just be some playground legend. I don't think it's too late."
-- Gary Parrish: 529-2365
Fromer Booker T. Washington star Taurean Moy holds the following national high school basketball records, according to the National High School Sports Record Book:
Most 3-pointers made, game
24: Dec. 5, 2000, vs. Manassas
Most 3-pointers attempted, game
44: Dec. 5, 2000, vs. Manassas
Most 3-pointers attempted, season
Most 3-pointers attempted, career