He speaks in a calm voice, with a measured tone that sounds like a soul singer from the 70’s addressing a crowd at an old-school concert.
No, there isn’t much that rattles E’Twaun Moore. Not the East Chicago, Indiana projects, or the fourth-quarter of a critical early game for his team.
Not even some kid prodigy named Derrick Rose as a middle-schooler, whom he played against in AAU ball back in the day.
“He told you about that? We played each other in middle school,” said a surprised Moore after playing a big part in the Bulls’ 102-97 win over the Charlotte Hornets Friday night. “So we’re real familiar with one another. It was fun. We always had tough battles.”
Rose had high praise for his former childhood rival after Moore scored 11 points in 23 minutes on 5 of 6 shooting, including two straight baskets to start the fourth quarter after the Bulls were reeling on both ends, in danger of losing their second straight to the tough Hornets.
“He could be the point, I could be the 2. It’s funny, we used to play against each other when we were younger,” Rose said. “Now it’s weird, we used to have a lot of battles going against each other. I know his competitive spirit, I know why he’s here and he deserves every minute, every second he’s out there.”
Moore is the kind of player one would think Tom Thibodeau would’ve used in a variety of ways, but was often glued to the bench for more experienced players. Moore had one shining moment last season, when playing in Rose’s stead against Oklahoma City on national TV, hit a corner 3-pointer with seconds remaining that gave the Bulls an improbable win, introducing himself as someone with big-game calm and moxie.
After playing 12 pressure-packed fourth-quarter minutes, he was asked how did he manage to play so calm, given his relative lack of experiences at this level.
“That calm? Ummm, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s just me, my demeanor. I never get rattled. Even though I didn’t have those crazy experiences in the NBA, I had them in high school and college.”
A second-round pick for the Celtics in 2011, he was traded to Orlando after his rookie year and spent two years there, playing around 20 minutes a night and becoming a favorite of a couple executives who loved his toughness and versatility.
After signing as a free agent before last season, he found himself behind Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks on the bench hierarchy.
“It was tough, I didn’t know I wouldn’t play as much as I didn’t,” he said. “But I just kept coming in, working hard and staying focused.”
That focus turned into a summer of working out with the thought of being given a real chance to play, resulting in consistent playing time now and having his coach say it was critical to have him out there Friday.
“He gave us great minutes,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had to have him out there because he was hitting his shots. At the end we wanted a little more size (defensively).”
Chasing around Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker during the entire fourth quarter, he cemented himself as a legit option in such instances—long after earning the trust of his teammates.
“Surprising? No, I didn’t even think of it,” Moore said. “I just go out there and play and I guess coach feels confident in me to keep me out there. I gotta keep doing what I do and finish the game strong.”
Rose and Jimmy Butler liked having him out there late, as both a floor spacer, defender and shot creator.
“Three aggressive guards, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “(We) knock down shots, get to the rim. Guys who play hard and guard. Down the stretch you need that. It came up big for us tonight.”
And as for those old AAU battles with the now-teammate whose locker only separated by rookie Bobby Portis, there’s a slight glint in both players’ eyes, from equal parts amazement of getting to this level and reminiscing on the competition.
“How’d I play against him? Good,” said Moore, the one time his voice raised above a mild level. “We used to battle. I used to get him sometimes, he might have got me a couple times. We never knew we’d play here together.”
Said Rose: “He’s in the right place. He knows the game, a great teammate, a great dude. I’m just glad he has the opportunity he has now.”
And with more chances of playing, Moore is earning more than just the trust of his teammates.