Gard's Wisconsin program working through fog of tragedy and mourning

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard speaks at a press conference during the Big Ten conference NCAA college basketball media day Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/David Banks)

Rosemont, Ill. – For most college basketball coaches, the summers are filled with recruiting trips, workouts with players and maybe even some quick vacations.

For Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, this past summer included all those things, but it came with tragedy, as well.

On May 25, assistant coach Howard Moore was traveling along M-14 near Ann Arbor with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children, son Jerell, 13, and daughter Jaidyn, 9. The family was heading to a Memorial Day vacation to visit relatives when a wrong-way driver, 23-year-old Samantha Winchester of Ann Arbor, was heading west in the eastbound lanes of M-14 when she struck the Moores’ vehicle head-on.

Jaidyn died at the scene of the crash while Jennifer, a Detroit native, was taken off life support and died later that day. Moore and his son, Jerell, were injured.

“Obviously it's been an unchartered territory the last three, four months as our program has walked through obviously a personal tragedy with one of my assistants, Howard Moore, and his family,” Gard said Wednesday at Big Ten media day.

The accident was difficult enough for everyone connected to Wisconsin basketball. But things got worse in late June when the university announced Moore, 46, experienced a medical issue at his Madison area home and during the ride in an ambulance to the hospital, went into cardiac arrest.

Moore has since been moved to a long-term care facility and will not coach this year. Former Wisconsin star Alando Tucker has taken over Moore’s role on an interim basis.

In the meantime, Gard has been trying to help his team work its way through an emotional time.

“There's not a road map for that,” Gard said. “I think the one thing we've tried to do, obviously we've always had a very tight-knit family or group with our program, and I think it's in these times that you really lean on each other. We've tried to keep our players up to date on a day-to-day basis or week-to-week basis in terms of the progress of Coach Moore.

“But I think you never know what's coming around the corner. I think that's one thing we've learned. You obviously appreciate every day, don't take anything for granted. Like I said, it's always been a tight group and a feeling of togetherness. You always talk about those things in terms of athletics or the sport arena, and now you have a real-life experience that everybody is having to walk through that puts a whole different light and takes it to a whole different level.”

Back it up a bit

Making a 3-pointer might be a bit more difficult this season.

This summer, the NCAA announced the 3-point line was moving back to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches for the 2019-20 season, matching the international distance. The move was made to make the lane more available for drives from the perimeter, to slow the trend of making 3-pointers so prevalent and to create more offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.

The new distance was used during last season’s NIT and 3-point shooting percentage dropped 2.2 percent from the regular season to 33 percent.

Most Big Ten coaches were fine with the change, saying good shooters will adapt while defenses will adjust to teams that don’t shoot the ball well.

“I think it'll be different for each team,” Purdue’s Matt Painter said. “I think the guys that can make 3s, it's probably not going to bother much, and the guys that are trying to be 3-point shooters, it's really going to bother. … The line doesn't affect Carsen Edwards, but it will affect guys trying to do that.

“So I think as the season progresses and you look at guys' percentages, I think you can end up seeing for certain teams people really packing it in and making you earn it from the 3-point line because the 3-point line has changed how we guard things. You're trying to get 3s, but you're also trying to stop your opponent from getting 3s. So I think it's one of those wait-and-see things.”

Old home week

It really is a small world, even in Big Ten basketball.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins began his media session Wednesday by welcoming incoming commissioner Kevin Warren, who is taking over for the retiring Jim Delany in January.

Collins, son of veteran NBA coach Doug Collins, told a story that connected him with Warren and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery from when Chris Collins was a young boy.

“It's just funny how life is full circle,” Collins said. “When I was a little kid growing up outside of Philadelphia, my father was the volunteer coach at the University of Pennsylvania, and the backcourt was Fran McCaffery and Kevin Warren, and I was the ball boy. It's funny to see how things turn out later in life.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau