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The Program: Meet the East Tech Scarabs, a Cleveland Team Actually Worth Rooting For 

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With two minutes left in the third quarter in the jam-packed Glenville gym, the home crowd is getting restless, as visiting East Tech takes the air out of the ball. It's Dec. 9, and the East Tech guards are calmly playing keep-away well beyond the 3-point line, content with slowing down the fast-paced game to a standstill, killing the clock to make sure the trailing Tarblooders don't have a chance to touch the ball again this quarter.

"Man, I knew East Tech was going to stall, they always stall!" one frustrated Glenville dad says in the stands, as a smattering of boos start trickling from the crowd with their team down by 8. "Foul him!" the parent yells down, pleading for someone to send East Tech to the free-throw line.

But no: East Tech is still holding the ball as the crowd gets louder at each second that ticks off the clock. One minute. Thirty seconds. Fifteen seconds. Seven seconds. Finally, some action. East Tech senior guard Anthony Carmon puts the ball on the floor, uses a pick, drives left, cuts to the top of the key and lobs it to the right of the hoop in the path of charging sophomore guard Markell Johnson, who jumps and gently guides the ball in with a single smooth motion just before the third-quarter buzzer sounds (watch on Instagram).

East Tech coach Brett Moore wildly pumps his arm with the kind of enthusiasm that can only come from knowing it couldn't have gone better. A collective groan from the home crowd lets out, recognizing that East Tech not only killed the final two minutes of the quarter, but ended it with a seemingly easy alley-oop dunk to boot.

The fourth quarter gets no better for the Tarblooders. With Carmon and Johnson controlling the game, and senior Kory Cullum dominating the inside, East Tech hangs on to push their early record to 2-0 with a 5-point win.

East Tech came into the 2014-2015 Senate League season with a target on its back. Last season, it became the first Cleveland public school in some 30 years to reach the high-school boys basketball "final four" down in Columbus.

How do you follow up that kind of success?

The answer's not easy for a program beset by scarce resources, a string of obstacles unheard of in well-funded suburban private schools, and an ever-changing roster created by Cleveland public schools' open enrollment policy.

But East Tech coach Brett Moore isn't your typical public school basketball coach, and the talented trio at the center of the Scarabs — seniors Anthony Carmon and Kory Collum, and sophomore Markell Johnson, who's already drawing interest from the likes of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo — aren't your typical athletes.

It's why East Tech not only has its eye on Columbus again this year, but also seems to possess the building blocks for a perennial powerhouse-in-the-making.

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(slideshow: East Tech basketball dominating the Senate League)

***

The school on the corner of East 55th Street and Quincy Avenue has a long history of sports accomplishments. It is most famous, perhaps, as the high school where Jesse Owens first revealed the talent that would land him legendary fame and world-class accomplishments. Owens enrolled in 1930; during his senior year he tied the world record for the 100-yard dash and beat the world record in the 220-yard dash. In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he collected four gold medals under the gaze of Adolf Hitler.

On the hardwood, East Tech has had plenty of accolades, though not for awhile before last season's success. The Scarabs have three state championships under their belt, with back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1959 that featured a 51-game winning streak, and another title in 1972. Cleveland's demographics radically shifted during those three decades and so too did East Tech's. After opening as one of the country's first trade schools in 1908, the school was mainly filled with the children of European immigrants. That gave way to a mostly African-American population by the 1950s. It remains that way today.

The 1972 state championship coincided with court-mandated busing aimed at desegregating Cleveland's schools, which dispersed the neighborhood talent pool across the city.

"What broke everything up was the busing," says coach Brett Moore, 38. "Had busing never occurred, there would probably never have been any drop off because this neighborhood has been known for producing talent. I was one of the kids that should've went to East Tech."

Moore grew up in the nearby Fairfax neighborhood but ended up attending West Tech and playing basketball in the mid-1990s. When he was in college — playing basketball and studying broadcast communication at Walsh University — Moore dreamed of becoming a cameraman for TNT, traveling around the country filming NBA games.

That all changed his final year at the school. His playing eligibility all used up, his coach made him an offer too good to pass up: He'd keep him on scholarship if he helped out with the team.

"I fell in love with being on the sideline," he recalls. "I could see myself doing this; that changed the course of everything, so when I came out of college, I became a substitute teacher and started coaching at the rec, and all I taught them was stuff I knew from college."

After landing a substitute teaching job at East Tech, Moore was also coaching teams of 12-to-14-year-olds and 15-to-17-year-olds at Zelma Watson George Recreation Center on Cleveland's east side in the early 2000s.

Moore recalls the time Walt Killian, an East Tech player in the 1960s and longtime coach at Shaw High School, approached him after watching Moore's Saturday rec league teams play.

"He said we had to be the most organized rec league team he'd ever seen in his life, like 'I've never seen a rec team run plays like that,'" Moore recalls. "We were just destroying people."

In 2003, Moore made the first jump in his coaching career, as it were, volunteering at Collinwood High School after one of his players mentioned the school could use some help.

"I talked to coach (Ken) Vana only because in four years of high school, we never beat Collinwood. They never had more talent than we did, but they always beat us. What does this dude know?" says Moore. "So I went over there and he said I could help out, volunteer, and I did just to watch this guy work. I picked up so much. Collinwood was the most disciplined public school at the time, so they always gave themselves a chance to win, and they always did their share of winning. The only thing holding them back was they didn't have the most talent."

It wasn't long before Vana saw Moore's potential to take another step.

"I was bringing coach Vana these scouting reports and they'd be so detailed with player breakdowns, tendencies," says Moore. "So he was like, 'Man, it's time for you to get your own job.'"

Moore thought, "Why not East Tech?" He had been a long-term sub there, and they could obviously use some help.

"When I was at Collinwood, we beat East Tech by 40," says Moore. "They had talent. I'd watch these kids play, and there's no way in hell we should've beaten them by 40."

In 2005, the East Tech varsity job opened up. East Tech assistant football coach Shawn Williams volunteered for it and brought Moore on as the JV coach, getting his foot in the door with the promise that as soon as he got a head football coaching job, he'd hand the basketball program over to Moore.

They didn't realize that chance would come the next year.

click to enlarge East Tech coach Brett Moore
  • East Tech coach Brett Moore

***

East Tech won just a handful of games every year, including just four before Moore arrived. In his first season as head coach, 2006-2007, they lost only four, taking 17 games and the city championship. In eight seasons, the Moore-led Scarabs have had nothing but winning seasons, including 16-, 17-, and 24-win seasons in the past three years. Last year's amazing run included an undefeated city run, a district championship over defending champions Mentor, and a regional overtime win against Uniontown Lake.

The improvement would be startling for any program, let alone one facing the problems that plague East Tech.

For starters, there's the staff. It's Moore and JV coach Daryl Forrest, a gym and health teacher at the school. That's it. No assistants (except for volunteer Phil Cullum), no athletic trainers.

Then there's the gym. East Tech's "new" home was built in 1972, and by the looks of it, it hasn't been updated since. Rickety wooden bleachers surround the court, and the dim lighting is just bright enough to bring every scuff and scrape into clear view on the synthetic tartan playing surface.

"It's like playing on concrete," Moore jokes. The court is among the reasons why the Scarabs have so few home games: Opposing teams just don't want to play there if they don't have to, which this year means only six home games for the squad.

Then there's the practice time. Gym time is split between four teams (boys and girls varsity and JV). Cleveland's custodial contract means there's no money to pay overtime to keep the gym open long enough for each team to practice. The two dozen boys on the JV and varsity teams, for example, often alternate with the girls' teams at the school's gym and the nearby Friendly Inn development center's court.

And then there's enrollment. In 2010, East Tech was bumped up to Division I in the Ohio High School Athletic Association, meaning a school with more than 369 students. East High and South High were closing that year, and administrators thought the move would bring an influx of kids into East Tech, pushing the numbers to Division I status. But that influx never really happened.

"And we've never come back down [to Division II]," says Moore. The entire third floor of the school is vacant.

And, finally, there's Cleveland public schools' open enrollment policy. Essentially, it means any public school can take any student who wants to go there, even if they live outside the school's normal geographical boundaries. It means never being sure from one year to the next what the roster might look like, or which nearby middle-schoolers will be coming in. Last year's trek to the state semifinals accelerated that shuffle, with a number of kids making the jump to East Tech to fill the void, including transfers from Glenville, John Hay and a senior who moved from Vegas to Cleveland over the summer. The JV squad has a promising player who lives in Strongsville: His father, a former East Tech player, wanted him to go there.

"This is the first time we've had so much change," Moore says, "I like to grow my kids through the program. Last year I lost eight guys, so there were still a lot of voids." Going forward, Moore says he won't keep seniors who transfer to the team after this year unless they're guaranteed starters: If they don't already have the basketball knowledge and mentality needed to make it, there's not enough time for Moore to bring it out of them.

Find another state powerhouse with that line-up of challenges. And find one that overcame them, then went on last year to topple defending state champ Mentor (Ohio's third largest school, with more than six times the enrollment of East Tech), along with highly touted Shaker Heights and Uniontown Lake, before eventually losing to state champions St. Edwards.

"It's the pride and joy of the neighborhood," Moore said this summer of his team's run. "A lot of the alums from the 1950s through the 1970s were just telling me they never thought they'd see East Tech go down to Columbus again. And even though we came up short, it was still a win for the neighborhood. It was a win. People never thought we'd see the Ohio State court with our name on it ever again."

Moore lost eight seniors from that team, another hurdle. His 2014 squad would be filled with three first-year upperclassmen transfers (Cantrel Woodley, Jayvonte Thomas, Dominique Rodgers), three call-ups from last year's JV team (Johnny Pullum, Damarious Green and Carl Bigsby), a freshman contributor (Tyshawn Howard) and a freshman and a sophomore rotating between varsity and JV.

But Moore had three returning players. And they can ball.

***

click to enlarge Kory Cullum
  • Kory Cullum

Senior Kory Cullum is the only Scarab to play four years at East Tech, and three with varsity. He's a 6-foot-5 freak of an athlete who regularly dominates the smaller and less skilled big men who square off against him in the paint, despite the fact that football, not basketball, is his one true love. He's eying a football scholarship to play receiver at Howard University, should his ACT scores work out.

For now, he runs the interior of the Senate League with athleticism and coordination his opponents can't match, flashing ball-handling skills and a soft mid-range jumper. He's averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals a game when he plays — pretty much all you could ask of a big man's output.

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  • Anthony Carmon

Guard Anthony Carmon is a senior too, but it's his second year in the program. He transferred from MLK last year before his junior year and immediately made an impact, establishing himself as one of the best guards in the region (or the best guard in the state, if you ask him). Carmon came to East Tech because of Kyauta "KT" Taylor, his first cousin, and star of last year's team. Taylor now plays (and starts, averaging 13.3 points per game) at Division II Notre Dame College in Euclid

"I wanted to play with my cousin," Carmon says. "It was either here or Central Catholic, so I came over here mainly to play with my cousin, and then I found out Brett was a really, really good coach who could make me into a top D-I player, and that's what I am now."

And now, in his senior year, he's playing for a Division I scholarship. Division II schools are on Carmon hard, Moore says, and coaches at Mid-American Conference schools are coming around. Two Ohio University assistant coaches made the drive up from Athens a few weeks ago to watch Carmon face off against his old team at MLK.

Carmon's backcourt partner is Markell Johnson, and the two of them have an otherworldly ability to find each other on rim-rocking alley-oop dunks.

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  • Markell Johnson
click to enlarge Markell Johnson
  • Markell Johnson
click to enlarge Markell Johnson
  • Markell Johnson

Johnson, the team captain, is one of the most highly touted players in the state, and he's only a sophomore. Moore hadn't even heard of him before Johnson showed up for tryouts last year. But it was clear the freshman didn't belong on JV. Initially, Johnson was put behind some hardworking seniors ahead of him on the depth chart, but by mid-season Johnson was thrust into the starting line-up and became a target of Moore's isolation calls meant to simply get the ball into Johnson's gifted hands.

The guard would sink the buzzer-beating overtime shot that sent East Tech to Columbus last year.

By the time his senior year comes around, Moore says Johnson will be a five-star recruit, essentially able to go to any school he wants. Moore also believes Johnson will be the first of his players to make it to the NBA.

The 16-year-old lives on the west side of Cleveland, and came to East Tech last year to play with KT Taylor and Johnell Free, another star from last year's team who's now averaging 15 points per game at junior college Mercyhurst North East.

"KT was telling me that if I came, it would put us over the top. Nobody really knew me at the beginning of the season. Nobody knew," says Johnson. "I grew up on the west side and me coming here, people were shocked that I came because I could have went to prep or private school."

Johnson is a driver, a dunker, a shooter, a ball handler, a distributer — everything, really. His quick hands on defense net him nearly four steals a game, many of which lead to thunderous fast-break dunks on the other end. His instincts are to pass first, but he's draining over 50 percent of his shots and Moore's challenged him to shoot more.

Johnson's emergence as a star, especially as a sophomore, has led coaches at big private and parochial schools to try and poach his talent.

Despite the OHSAA rules — "any attempt to recruit a prospective student-athlete for athletic purposes is strictly prohibited" — it happens. "They do it regularly, and that's the nature of the business," Moore says. "The thing that's unique about this program is that it's built with neighborhood kids. It's built with kids who want to be here. I didn't recruit any of these kids, they just come. I don't go to their houses and sit with their parent. If you come, I'm going to coach you."

Johnson acknowledges other high school coaches try to get him to transfer.

"But I know how to avoid it," he says. "If a coach asks for my number, I'll give him my mom's number. I don't give them my number. And she tells them no, I'm staying at Tech the whole time."

"What the kids need to understand is that coaches need them more than they need the coaches," Moore says, no matter what they try to sell them on. "I told Markell, in particular, from what we did last year, these same college coaches that are recruiting you are going to go to the other. You can leave here and go elsewhere and Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Cincinnati, Xavier — all these schools — are going to stop calling me, and start calling them. I tell my kids it's about y'all — they need to understand their worth. Here, the only thing that I can't get you that these other schools may be able to get you is a book bag and some fancy jogging suits. That's pretty much all they have to offer, and as far as knowledge of the game, I'm on the same level as all of these coaches. And at some of the high-profile schools, I know way more than them. Other than going to a school to be a part of their lure and prestige, why not establish East Tech as a prestigious school because you're here?"

It's clear Moore and Johnson have a strong connection. This past summer, the two of them constantly worked together on his game and in the weight room, sometimes until 1 a.m. Moore regularly shuttles kids home or to RTA stations, and he drives Johnson from the east-side school to his mom's place on the west side nearly every day after practice.

He's protective of him too, recalling the time not too long ago that the head of an AAU program — a notoriously shady and money-driven operation in recent years — tried to essentially bribe him with his connections to an apparel company in return for Moore's influence over the star sophomore.

"I had a guy come to me at the beginning of the year saying, 'Brett, y'all need some new uniforms,' and was pretty much saying he'll do it if I get Markell to play for them. I don't pawn my kids off like that. It's AAU —  they'll do it a lot, saying, 'We'll furnish your high-school team if you get Markell to come over and play for us.' Nope. That would be Markell's decision, I don't want any parts of that, I don't want y'all telling what we can and cannot do, telling us what brand we can and cannot wear. I'd rather just get my own stuff."

Local businessman and radio station executive Tom Wilson recently offered to fund a uniform upgrade, an offer Moore and the school's administrators took up. Moore picked out a different brand — Nike — than what the AAU head offered.

***

East Tech's first loss of the season came against a familiar foe, St. Ed's, in a Dec. 20 matchup at the Lakewood school.

It was a tough matchup to begin with, just for the talent and depth on the Eagles' side; but Moore also was dealing with the absence of Carmon, who he had sat out for a few games early in the season as Carmon dealt with issues in school. The Scarabs held tight for three quarters despite Carmon's absence, but Ed's pulled away in the fourth and Johnson hurt his knee as the minutes ticked away. Moore would be without both Carmon and Johnson for the next game three days later, against Delaware Hayes at Quicken Loans Arena, a 70-49 loss.

Their last loss, 51-40 against St. Ignatius at Baldwin Wallace on Jan. 4, was partially another product of player absence; but this time it was the sort of absence unique to Moore's situation, the kind you wouldn't find on the other sideline.

Senior power forward Cullum unexpectedly missed the game. That happens sometimes, Moore says: Players can't come to practice or a game when dealing with issues that take precedence over basketball.

"All of them have issues," Moore says ­— economically or with their family, or sometimes both ­— and most of them internalize it, bottling it up until it sometimes manifests in missing practices or games without warning. They don't want to appear weak, Moore says, by admitting there are issues going on, despite the fact that every one of them is dealing with something beyond his control, problems that kids shouldn't have to deal with at that age.

Cullum's situation isn't unique, nor is it the first time something like that has come to Moore's desk. He talks about a time when he was hard on another kid on the team, a junior, who he didn't think was focusing enough — until he found out what was going on at home.

"His situation is crazy for a 17-year-old. He's the man of his house, raising his brother and his sister in junior high, by himself. He just now let us in on what's going on, so now we can rally around him and help him. It's way more important than basketball; if you need to be with your family, then be with your family."

Basketball is a good outlet for them.

"A lot of these kids wouldn't get the psychological support they need and this is their only real outlet, so I'm really sympathetic and empathetic to their situations," Moore says. "You learn how these different personalities react and the challenge is to get them for two hours to think as one. That's the thing for every game: for two hours to get them to think as one. My mom and dad split and I ended up being raised by my great aunt, but I still had a close relationship with my dad. A lot of their situations I can empathize with."

What Moore asks, though, is honesty. He is their coach; he can be more. But the honesty applies not only to the relationship between player and coach, but player and player. And the ways he can use basketball to teach his kids larger life lessons can help them realize their potential once graduation hits or the playing is done. Which is why he gets irked when his players simply no-show on the team instead of filling him in on their situations.

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And that's why following the early January loss to the St. Ignatius Wildcats, frustrated by Cullum's unannounced absence and what he thought was a lack of effort and cohesiveness among some of the team, Moore took his players into an empty classroom. There'd be no practice today.

The players sat at the small desks lined up on either side of the room, with Moore standing silently in the middle aisle as they shuffled in. The lights were off, the room illuminated by the dimming afternoon winter sun.

"So why didn't you show up to the game?" Moore says to Cullum once the players are all settled. The senior doesn't know that his coach had found out where he was, but is more pissed that Cullum didn't tell him he wouldn't make it and that the senior had been avoiding him since.

"Some stuff went on. I'm not about to say it in front of everybody."

Cullum says that Moore probably thinks he's lying, so why try to explain in the first place.

After minutes of tense back-and-forth, Cullum finally says that he was dealing with family issues.

"You can say, 'I got family issues,' and that's it," Moore says gently. The coach had previously sat him out of a game for missing practice without saying anything. "All I'm asking you to do is communicate properly. If you've got some family shit going on, just say, 'Coach Brett, I got some family shit going on.'"

Cullum says again that he doesn't think Coach would believe him if he said anything. But Moore knows way more about his situation than Cullum realizes. Moore addresses the team at large with a question.

"What did I tell you all to do before the game, for Kory?"

Ten voices speak up: "Pray."

"I didn't say, 'Kory's a hoe ass motherfucker for not coming to the game.' I said, 'Pray for Kory, man, he's got some shit going on and he needs some help.' So that means you don't know me as well as you think you do. The people who are on your back about you doing what you need to do are the same people who can help you get the hell out of here. I see some shit in you and everybody else sees some shit in you that you don't even see in yourself.

"You got a coach who grew up down the street on 79th, went to college, twice, got a master's degree, came back to this motherfucker to help you get your ass out of here," he continues. "But you don't see it. You're consumed with all this bullshit, and then you get mad because someone cares if you were at the game? Basketball's not even at the top of the list and it's never been. It's your religion and it's your family. If you have some family shit, you have to tell someone you have some family shit going on."

After twenty minutes, the housecleaning issue is done and Moore moves on to the next issues that need addressing.

"This is what we're going to do — put these desks in a circle," Moore says. He goes to each of his players and addresses them directly: "I'm expecting you to be a lockdown defender but I don't know if you got it ... I'm expecting you to be a physical force on the boards, but you ain't got it ... I'm expecting you at some point to play to your full potential, but I don't know if you got it ... You, as much as I want you to stop thinking so much and just play basketball ..."

A few minutes later: "What we're gonna do is this — we did this last year — anybody got issues, raise their hand." Most team members put their hand in the air. "I'm gonna say this: If you don't say nothing about it today, don't say shit the rest of the season, okay? This is how it works: You address whatever or whoever the problem is and nobody else talks until your turn is up."

An hour later, everybody's lingering issues were put on the table, out in the open, ready to be addressed by Moore and their teammates. Some felt they should get the ball more. Some were down on themselves for not playing better. Some felt like there was too much criticism when they screwed up in the game and their confidence was shot. But now, it was all out there.

Moore addressed it all, breaking everything, and everyone, down before building them all back up again at the end, telling all the unconfident players what they could be, showing everybody his Facebook page, projected onto the classroom's screen, and how positively he's been talking about the kids on there.

Eventually, Moore's Facebook page gives way to game film from the loss to Ignatius. Confession gives way to emotion and closure, and basketball is again the focus.

The Scarabs haven't lost since.

Moore gave a similar talk to last year's team after losing back-to-back games mid-season. They didn't lose again until they made it to Columbus.

***

The trophy case is but one of Coach Moore's interests, and probably not even at the top of the list.

His vision for East Tech goes beyond what his kids can accomplish in high school. The program, in his vision, fully succeeds when all of his seniors get into colleges and he can consistently help them get scholarships at big-time four-year universities. That means academics and an eye toward eligibility with the NCAA.

Back in 2007, Moore called Case Western Reserve University's coach Sean McDonnell. He wanted to talk about Alfred Preston, a solid player at East Teach and an honors student who Moore thought was "Case-ready, academically." Preston went to Case, played and graduated. Now, McDonnell looks at East Tech's roster every year to see if anyone else fits the mold. It's a relationship Moore is working to build with other coaches and schools, so that they trust him when he says he has a player who would be a fit. The fact that Moore coaches at such a high level and puts such an emphasis on the fundamentals also means there isn't a steep learning curve for kids stepping onto the college court. They're ready to go now. In that vein, he's fighting a perception amongst coaches that Cleveland public school kids aren't ready. He's already been proven right.

"I contact coaches to let them know I have this player, and now we've gotten to the point that with a few coaches, anybody I mention and say is a college prospect, they'll actually give a hard look at them," Moore says.

Last year, all eight of his seniors graduated and got into college, but he feels KT Taylor should have gone to a Division I school.

"A lot of schools let KT get away. I was telling them about KT and they let him get away, and now they see what he's doing [at Division II's Notre Dame College] and I'm getting calls from schools that let some of my guys get away. The thing with this district is you're going to get a hell of an athlete, but often they're going to be undisciplined. That's why I was excited about [Ohio State quarterback] Cardale Jones doing what he did, because he's a part of that whole stigma too, that Glenville players are undisciplined, and for him to do what he did let them know that not all kids are in that mold that come out of the district. Now I can call a coach and say I got this player, or they call me to tell me they're going to look at so-and-so; because of what KT and Johnell did they now come back and look at what Anthony or whoever else is doing."

The Cardale Jones comparison is apt, especially since Moore wants East Tech basketball to be similar to Glenville football, which regularly sends kids to prestigious programs and universities every year. He wants to learn even more from Ted Ginn, who emphasizes academics, including a focus on the ACT test and bringing in specialists to work with his players, making sure they take advantage of Individual Education Plans afforded to some that allow them to take the test in chunks instead of all at once.

Moore just got his master's degree at Cleveland State, where he was taking night classes. And he places the same emphasis on the ACT that Ginn does, making his freshman players take the test to see what's ahead of them as they think about college.

"That's how they get the score: They can focus on one part, but they can't focus on all them at one time," Moore says. "They can take one part on Saturday, come back on Monday and take the other part and submit it to the ACT. What I tell those guys is don't use the IEP as a crutch, you're smart. I tell them everybody's got an IEP in something — you've got some guys who can open up the hood of a car and immediately know what's wrong with it, and because I can't do that it doesn't make me dumb. For school, it's just a time thing, and that's the accommodation that we've got. We're going to give them extra time."

H often tutors his players himself. He wants recruiters to know that East Tech players will be ready on the floor and won't be liabilities in the classroom. And for those that don't play hoops after high school, the hope is for them to still be in a position to succeed.

"My job is to set you up for when you become an everyday person," he says. "What you do in school dictates what you do as an everyday person. At some point you're going to put the basketball down."

Just having someone who'll call you out and and get on you if you skip class or don't do your schoolwork can be a huge influence on a kid's life, when many of them wouldn't have that otherwise. Those who slack off get chewed out by Coach. Just ask Cullum.

"He's teaching me off the court how to be a leader, because I don't have a person like that in my life," says Cullum.

Moore calls Cullum a "borderline genius," but thinks he's scared to show it "because it sets him apart from his friends and people don't want to stand out like that. A lot of kids grow up in this environment and don't want to stand out academically because there are negative connotations for being thought of as too damn smart. Kory could be freakishly smart if he chose to be. For Kory, it's all about what he chooses to be."

Cullum seems to understand.

"He teaches me how to be a leader, teaching me who to stay around, teaching me the stuff I'm doing on the court can reflect on life," says Cullum. "He taught me the way you start in a game or practice is going to dictate the way you finish. And what it teaches, for this school year, the way you start in the marking period is going to dictate the way you finish."

Cullum's admittedly a work in progress, but the key word there is progress, including a shot at landing with Howard University.

"Brett changed me," he says. "I didn't think I was going to go to college or nothing. I wasn't thinking about college, none of that. I thought I was going to be down in the hood, basically. I didn't know nothing but the hood. He changed my whole mindset and I think differently now and I matured a lot since I've been in this program. Don't get me wrong, I still have my ways when I get mad; I ain't perfect, but by the time this is done I should be mature enough to go to college. Brett pushes me. I can tell he really cares. Sometimes it's nerve wracking and frustrating, but at the same time, I take it in because other people don't get that. A lot of people don't get to have someone like that on their back."

***

It's Friday night, Jan. 16, and the 9-3 Scarabs are rolling on their home court, their mid-season squarely behind them. East Tech's been crushing the Senate League, undefeated in the conference so far, and tonight against a hapless John Marshall squad, it would be no different.

If there were any questions about how Tech would do (there weren't, of course), they were answered in the first 60 seconds when the Scarabs reached double digits before John Marshall was able to navigate the suffocating 1-3-1 press and advance the ball past center court. Steal-pass-dunk, steal-pass-layup, steal-pass-oop, steal-pass-jumper. Timeout.

The massive dunks from East Tech's Kory Cullum (36 points, 8 rebounds, 8 steals, 6 blocks, 4 assists), Markell Johnson (25 points, 18 assists) and Anthony Carmon (14 points, 9 rebounds) made it look like a Harlem Globetrotters/Washington Generals game played simply for the oohs-and-ahhs of an entertained crowd. Moore cleared the end of the bench in the second half, giving the kids who rarely play some solid minutes, on their way to a 121-55 game.

Yes, they scored 121 points.

Soon, junior transfer Keith Griffin will suit up for the first time. Moore is giddy with excitement about what he'll bring to the team. The Scarabs have nine more games on the schedule.

And then the real fun begins.

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