True to his personality, Porter Moser wanted to go higher.
So after Moser's freshman season at Creighton, the 6-foot-2-inch guard signed up for a summer class promising to increase his vertical jump.
"Porter said, 'Coach, I'm going to come back a better athlete,' and it was one of those offers purporting to teach you how to improve your jumping,'' said Tony Barone, Moser's mentor who coached him at Creighton from 1986 to 1990. "We tested him when everybody got back to campus and Porter improved his jump about a quarter-inch so now you could slide two pieces of paper under his shoe when he got off the ground. We liked to tease him about that.''Barone enjoys telling that story because it underscores how Moser learned to do more with less as a player – a trait that serves him well as a coach, especially at Loyola. Moser, a Benet Academy graduate spotted at a summer tournament by former Creighton assistant Dick Fick, earned a scholarship after spending his freshman year as one of the hardest-working walk-ons Barone ever coached.
"Dick said, 'Look, look this Moser kid is probably not ready for prime time but the one thing he can do is shoot the ball,' so we told Porter he had a scholarship if he made it through the first year,'' said Barone, 71, a Chicago guy who was 102-82 in six seasons at Creighton.
"You can pick out guys who have potential as a coach and Porter was one of those guys,'' Barone said. "He was a listener, understood the game very well, a student of it, a great teammate. Those characteristics jumped out.''
Starting 27 of 102 college games, Moser averaged 4.6 points but "probably won five games for us on last-second shots,'' according to Barone. Most memorably, Moser led young men even more naturally than he hit big shots, exemplifying the high-character, low-maintenance student-athlete Barone sought to sustain Missouri Valley Conference success.
"The Creighton years were the most special time of my career and Porter was a big part of that,'' said Barone, a Chicagoan who started coaching at Mount Carmel before college stops at Creighton and Texas A&M. He ended his career in the NBA working for the Grizzlies.
"He was a very disciplined player, not immensely talented with great speed or jumping ability but he was tough and, boy, he could shoot,'' Barone said.
Sound familiar? A similarly strong-willed bunch of smart, selfless Loyola players beat physically superior higher seeds Miami and Tennessee in the NCAA tournament to advance into the school's first Sweet 16 in 33 years. Check the blueprints for Moser's programs at Arkansas-Little Rock, Illinois State and Loyola, and you will find Barone's fingerprints. Asked whose style he most emulates, the man who wears out his Fitbit pacing the sidelines paid tribute to the late Rick Majerus but started his answer praising his coach at Creighton and his boss for six seasons at Texas A&M.
"He was high energy as you can get, passionate,'' Moser said of Barone. "A mentor, still a huge influence in my life.''
Mentors provide support, which Moser needed after Illinois State fired him in 2007. Barone urged Moser to never change even if his job did. Deep faith in himself can carry a coach as far as a deep bench.
"The only thing I ever told him was be yourself,'' Barone said. "If you have belief in what you're doing, then continue doing it. Because Porter got fired at a school, that doesn't mean the school was right. That just means that school wasn't as involved in seeing what he could do and their evaluation of him is bad. I'm sure some guys at Illinois State are looking at this and saying, 'Boy, we blew that one big-time.' ''
Barone admits he's biased, having seen Moser grow from a gym-rat teen-ager into a 49-year-old who still coaches every game with something to prove. Over those three decades, one thing remains the same: Moser's energy.
"Some people will say he's out of control but that's not true,'' Barone said. "When you see a guy who's all-in as a coach, it carries over how players play. If you're not invested 100 percent yourself, it won't carry over. His teams, they're invested with him 100 percent.''
Now it's Loyola's turn. Barone has been in Moser's shoes; the hot Missouri Valley coach bigger programs will tempt to leave. Though a source said no contract talks with Moser have taken place since Loyola won the MVC tournament, university president Jo Ann Rooney told the Tribune two weeks ago the school values Moser and vowed to ensure "we're paying folks competitively without sitting back.''
"Porter raves about the AD (Steve Watson) and that, to me, is extremely important,'' Barone said. "He's very locked into his family. As a coach, we always are going to be tested in terms of the monetary end of it. Security is the most important thing to me, to get a situation where you have a secure position. Loyola has got to see what he's done despite some limitations.''
Living along Lake Shore Drive with his wife, Kathy, Barone sees firsthand how well his protege fits at Loyola. Barone, an academic All-American at Duke from now-defunct St. George High School in Evanston, says Loyola was his second choice. So the member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame relates to how Moser prioritizes family and proximity. Every now and then, Barone -- a die-hard Cubs fan like Moser -- wanders over to Rogers Park to watch practice. He sat courtside Feb. 24 at a sold-out Gentile Arena but typically keeps a lower profile at Loyola games.
"I'm so proud and he's done all this on his own,'' Barone said. "I don't want Porter looking over his shoulder and seeing me and thinking, 'Oh, he's watching.' ''
Doesn't matter. Whenever Moser coaches, Barone doesn't need to be seen to have his presence felt.
This article is written by David Haugh from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.