Georgia Tech sophomore Jalon Moore drawing comparisons with Moses Wright

In the summer workouts at the Zelnak Center, Jalon Moore could feel it happening. The Georgia Tech sophomore forward had pushed through his freshman season, scraping out a spot in the rotation in the final games of the season, but appearing in only 13 of the team’s 32 games and scoring a total of 37 points.

Moore had the explosiveness to get into the lane for shots, but as a freshman didn’t have the strength and poise to consistently score.

“I really felt most of that this summer, when it started to open up for me, really,” Moore said.

Moore came to Tech with a natural scoring touch around the basket, according to associate head coach Anthony Wilkins. What he lacked was the experience and savvy – when he spotted a window to attack, to identify the spot near the basket he could score from and figure out how he could get there.

“Jalon has really grown in making better reads in space,” Wilkins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And then from there, he’s grown in being more intentional in terms of getting to spots that he can be really successful in.”

That development has propelled Moore into this moment, as the Yellow Jackets begin ACC play Saturday against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. In the four games since coach Josh Pastner tried to give his team and Moore a spark by putting him in the starting lineup, Moore has brought forward the game that he crafted over the summer. In the four games, Moore is averaging 12.8 points per game and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 48.6% from the field. For the season, he’s averaging 8.8 points, 5.9 rebounds while making 45.3% of his shots.

Pastner and his staff don’t have to ponder hard to recognize similarities with another athletic, long-limbed forward who showed up at Tech without a typical amount of playing experience.

“I’m excited about Jalon,” Pastner said. “I’m not saying he’s going to be as good as Moses Wright – and I know he’s maybe a little different player in areas – but could have the same type of projection, where you’re like, ‘Where did you find him? Where did he come from?’ And the more he plays, the ceiling is so high for him.”

The short answer is that Moore came to Tech from Birmingham, Ala. He was a late riser in his recruitment and, while he generated interest, he was not laden with power-conference scholarship offers.

“When I took him, a couple people were like, ‘What are you seeing in him?’” Pastner said. “But I saw what his upside and his potential (were), and to Jalon’s credit, he’s a worker, he’s a grinder and he continues to get better.”

Moore, 6-foot-7 and 209 pounds, has a ways to go to catch up to Wright, who morphed from a high-school prospect virtually ignored by power-conference schools into the 2021 ACC player of the year. But he could be on his way.

Wilkins recalls moments in practice when Wright, by force of his energy and skill, took over practices with the sort of play that led the Jackets in 2021 to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010.

“You just kind of look around, and everyone’s got the same look on his face, like, ‘Wow,” Wilkins said. Moore, Wilkins continued, “has had some of those moments.”

It was on display in Tech’s most recent game, its 79-77 win over Georgia on Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion. Late in the first half, he worked his way into the lane and, using his long reach and left (non-dominant) hand, lifted a soft floater around the challenge of 6-10 Frank Anselem for a score.

On a fast break on the next possession, Moore streaked in from the left wing, accepted a cross-court pass from Deivon Smith, gathered the ball and scored on a pretty reverse layup. He delivered his two most impactful contributions on the defensive end in the game’s final seconds.

With Tech protecting a 78-77 lead in the final 15 seconds, Moore left his man to block Terry Roberts’ potential game-winning shot into the pep band. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Moore foiled Roberts again, leaping to tip and steal Roberts’ inbounds pass. The Jackets had to thwart two more Georgia shots that could have tied or won the game, but Moore’s impact was indelible.

“It felt great, knowing that it was a rival, too, and we got coach Pastner’s 100th win as a Georgia Tech head coach, so that also put a cherry on the top,” Moore said. “It felt great.”

Moore and Wright were not teammates, one leaving as the other was arriving, but Moore knows enough to understand the comparison and take good feeling from it, recognizing the confidence that Pastner is showing by making it.

“It’s a great compliment when (Pastner) says that because Moses was such a dominant player for Tech when he came in, rebounding the ball, dunking the ball,” Moore said. “He was also versatile, so it’s really a compliment when he says that.”

Moore is on a path to join the legacy of players who have made significant improvements in their game under Pastner, following the likes of Ben Lammers, Josh Okogie, James Banks, Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, Jordan Usher and Wright.

“He’s just a sweetheart kid – great, great teammate, wants to do things the right way,” Wilkins said. “And as he continues to evolve – this is an unbelievable opportunity with how much we’re depending on him and growing with him. We’ve kind of been there before with guys where we’ve grown with them through their rough spots, and it’s paid off for us. It’s fun watching him because his potential is through the roof.”

Moore credited the help of Wilkins, assistant coach Julian Swartz and graduate manager Rob Mbenoun for helping him make progress this summer. Wilkins put him through different drills where he was having to read defenses and pivoting and turning to get into open space. The Jackets also played a lot of one-on-one to hone finishing skills.

“You saw it this summer that, OK, he’s playing one-on-one, and he’s not settling for low-percentage stuff,” Wilkins said. “He knew where he wanted to get, and he had the skills to be able to get there. Over time, it just becomes clearer and clearer for you.”

Moore wasn’t as effective at the start of the season, he said, “but now it’s like, when I get hit, I can just gather, make a play, hit my teammates. It’s mostly that absorbing contact when I go to the rim.”

Wilkins is careful not to toss out compliments to players lest they induce complacency, but has the confidence in Moore’s drive to call him “a very special talent” and someone whose potential “is as great as anybody who’s been here” in Pastner’s tenure.

The challenge ramps up starting with North Carolina, where he’ll face a steady dose of opponents who will be increasingly aware of his ability. Tech’s coaches like his chances to meet the standard.

“He hasn’t quite scratched the surface,” Wilkins said. “I always like to say, big paws on a puppy. You know that he’s going to be a monster. And he’s progressing towards it all the time.”