Culture / Sporting Life

The Incredible Story of Taze Moore and His Million Dollar Leg — Tragedy, Friends Lost and a Hothead Turned UH Team Player

This Athletic Marvel's Traveled a Long Way to Get to Kelvin Sampson's Program

BY // 01.14.22

Taze Moore’s body is a road map of everything he’s been through. What he likes to call his Million Dollar Leg — the one that took five surgeries and more screws than you’ll find in a Home Depot to be put back together again. The tattoos of his loved ones. Including the big one of his grandma, who died at age 58 of heart failure, on his back. And the one for Lonnie B. Jones, his best friend, his brother really, who was shot dead at an apartment complex where they used to hang out in Southaven, Mississippi.

Moore estimates he probably has 20 tattoos in all — and plans to get more after the college basketball season ends. “I try to get all my people tatted on me,” he says, running his right hand along his ink covered left arm.

When you’ve been through everything Taze Moore has, you know you need to hold onto the ones you love. Any way you can. Moore’s found some new people now that he’s transferred in and is playing his senior season with the University of Houston basketball team. Moore started the season as an important rotation piece and he’s even more vital to the Cougars’ Final Four follow up season plans now with Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, two of the more talented guards in America, both out with major injuries.

Moore knows what it’s like to be hurting. He went 634 days between basketball games (finally returning in the 2018-19 season after graduating from high school in 2016) after a horrific right leg injury that left with him with two shattered bones.

“Five surgeries,” Moore tells PaperCity. “They did everything. Taking out screws. Putting screws back in. Taking out bones in my hip (to help rebuild the leg).

“I promised God if he gave me another chance, I’d change. I wouldn’t be in my head as much. It really put me in a mood of doing better.”

Moore will tell you he used to be “a hothead” in every sense. “I used to kick the chairs, yell at referees, stuff like that,” he says.

Moore wanted it so bad that he almost could not control himself. Having grown up in Southaven, Mississippi — just 13 miles outside of downtown Memphis — seeing so much, Moore knew he could not blow an unexpected chance to create a better life for himself and his family.

“I never even thought I’d leave my town.” he says, leaning forward in one of chairs at the sparkling Fertitta Center, where people now pay to see him play. “I just thought I’d work at a factory or something like that.

“Be the world’s most athletic Amazon worker.”

There are two things you should know about Taze Moore right away. He’s a world class talker and jokester. (Even if he insists that freshman guard Robbie Armbrester is actually by far the funniest guy on this UH team.) And Moore is almost disarmingly open about pouring his heart out. There is no pretense about Taze Moore.

There are few athletes who will tell you everything they did wrong. Moore does. With a smile.

“Taze’s a good kid,” UH assistant coach Quannas White tells PaperCity. “We’re just not going to allow certain things to happen over here. But it goes back to the character of our team. The leadership of Fabian White. The leadership of Marcus Sasser, Kyler Edwards, all those guys.

“When you have good guys on your team and around them, it makes it easier for guys to come who are not used to certain things. Or maybe have been the hothead before.”

Moore played the hothead in high school too. He now thinks that’s why he didn’t get any power program scholarship offers despite athletic gifts that often literally put him above the rim — and ended up at Cal State Bakersfield. He brought the short temper and wild unpredictability of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. No coach knew if he could control this Taze.

“I don’t care what gym our bus pulls up to in America, we’ve got the best athlete on the floor.” — UH assistant Kellen Sampson on Taze Moore

The Third Transfer

Kelvin Sampson and his staff do meticulous, extensive research on any player in the transfer portal they’re considering. Offering spots to Josh Carlton and Kyler Edwards is something UH’s coaches immediately knew they wanted to do. It took them longer to decide for sure that Taze Moore would be a good fit.

The fact that Cal State Bakersfield coach Rob Barnes vouched for Moore’s heart and character meant plenty. Kelvin Sampson has great respect for Barnes dating back to the days he coached at Oklahoma and Barnes patrolled the sidelines for the University of Mississippi.

Still, Moore would have to prove himself.

“When I came here — and I ain’t never told nobody this — but Coach Sampson and Coach Q really changed my life,” Moore says. “Changed my life for the better. I knew if I came here with the same attitude, it wouldn’t work. They really, really changed my life.

“It was the fact they didn’t let me do what I wanted to do. For the longest time in my life, I wasn’t happy. But nobody wanted to say anything. For me — people being in that situation — I don’t respect you if you don’t tell me when I’m right or wrong, A lot of people didn’t want to tell me that.

“A lot of people were scared to tell me that. But Coach Samps don’t care.”

“I never even thought I’d leave my town. I just thought I’d work at a factory or something like that. Be the world’s most athletic Amazon worker.” — UH guard Taze Moore

Moore suddenly found himself working harder in seemingly endless preseason conditioning sessions than he ever had in his entire life. If Moore ever thought of complaining, he quickly realized it’d be met by a hard stare. Or a cutting comment of truth.

“He don’t care where you’ve been.” Moore says of UH’s 66-year-old basketball lifer. “Coach Samps don’t care how you feel. He won’t ever let you just do what you want. And I appreciate that. He’s developed a maturity in me.”

In turn, Moore’s giving a UH team that is 14-2, heading into Saturday’s game at Tulsa, everything he has. Which is still an incredible amount of athleticism. Despite those five surgeries, despite the screws, despite the 634 day stretch when he could not play a basketball game, Moore still soars way above the rim on dunks. His alley-oop finishes produce wows from both fans and seasoned basketball observers like Jay Bilas

“I am amazed by him having some adversity,” Quannas White says of Moore. “With being out the time that he missed and  him just coming in and uplifting the team with his energy, his playmaking and his unselfishness. . . I’m really pleased with Taze.

“And I think he’s just getting started.”

Taze Moore, Athletic Marvel

The dunks are so attention grabbing that they can obscure everything else that Taze Moore does for Houston. Like Ben Affleck’s strange behavior overshadowing his acting ability with the completeness of a lunar eclipse. Moore can score 17 points in one game, grab 10 rebounds in another, pick up three steals in another and hit four triples, including a game winner, on another night.

Moore also brings something you cannot teach. Something that’s invaluable.

“His athleticism gives our other guys swagger,” UH assistant Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity. “I used to say that about — when I was at Oklahoma, we had Blake Griffin. I thought that Blake’s athleticism gave us swagger. We’ve got something that the other guys don’t.

“I don’t care what gym our bus pulls up to in America, we’ve got the best athlete on the floor.”

Jay Bilas Taze Moore The University of Houston Cougars basketball team defeated the Virginia Cavaliers at the Fertitta Center
When Taze Moore skies high to challenge a shooter, he’s really skying. ESPN’s Jay Bilas singles out Moore. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Moore spent many a night wondering if that athleticism would ever come back. One leg surgery has robbed many a basketball star of some of his natural gifts. Let alone five surgeries — some to correct earlier mistakes. Thinking basketball could be over for him — after just 24 games of his freshman year — Moore figured he’d beg the coaching staff at Cal State Bakersfield to let him stay on scholarship so he could finish his degree.

“I always promised my grandmother, I’d graduate,” Moore tells PaperCity. “I always knew that if I couldn’t play anymore, I was still going to graduate. Be a social worker or something. I grew up seeing a lot of horrific stuff, a lot of crazy stuff.

“And there’s a lot of kids in my area that see the same stuff that I can talk to. That could be my profession.”

Moore is the first male in his family to go to college. His grandmother Katie Sutherland was a special needs teacher who made her grandson swear he’d be that man. And a promise to grandma is a beyond sacred vow for Taze Moore.

“It’s funny,” Moore says, his smiling widening. “But I always tell people I had three girlfriends. My mom, my grandma and my great grandma. When I tell people this, they look at me funny. Because they don’t understand.

“My grandma was my wife, my real, the one I’d see every other night. And my great grandma was my girlfriend, I’d see now and then. And my mom was my ex-wife. We’d butt heads and battle, but we’d always come back together and have each other’s back. Always.”

Moore didn’t have it easy growing up in Southaven. He let few people outside of the three bedrock women in his life in. A few others he did let in — like Lonnie B. Jones, who was half a foot shorter than his 6-foot-4 frame, creating quite the image when they were both together, which was almost always — ended up murdered, casualties of the violence of the area.

“Southaven was really tough,” Moore says. “But I didn’t know (at the time). I’ll tell people about it, even guys on the team, and they’ll be like, ‘The stuff that you went through was not normal.’ ”

A week before Jones was shot and killed, Moore urged his friend to come to California. To just get away from Southaven any way he could.

“I think if I had a little more time to tell him, he’d be all right,” Moore says softly.

The University of Houston Cougars basketball team defeated the Virginia Cavaliers at the Fertitta Center
Taze Moore can be a difference maker for this UH team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

This 23-year-old’s life has already been marked by the type of loss that many much older men will never even see. He’s starting to give himself a break for that, starting to come to grips with it.

“If I could have somebody grow up with me, just see to this point, and they could talk to me, they’d say, ‘Taze had it hard,’ he says. ” ‘Taze really grew up by himself. No father figure. He’d been the man of the house since he was a kid.

” ‘So he really didn’t respect a man.’ ”

Moore looks over at the court where many of the UH assistant coaches, including Quannas White, are still working with players well after practice has ended. His mom Kenya Sutherland still works in Southaven as a secretary at a school and he imagines helping her get an easier life.

He way Moore sees it is that he has a million dollar leg now. And much, much more.

“These coaches really mean the most for me because they only want the best for me,” Moore says. “And not only the best for me, the best for all of us. And deep down, they’re a winner in life. That’s how I see it. And they just want you to win at life. They want you to be the best friend, the best husband, the best person.

“They just really care about the things that matter most. I knew if I could take care of the big things, the little things would take care of themselves. Not to get all deep and emotional.”

Moore grins. The most interesting man in college basketball will be heading back onto the court once we’re done talking to get more shots up. Taze Moore figures he’s here. He made it to Kelvin Sampson. What can stop him from soaring now.

Lynn Zarr, JR - Martha Turner Sotheby's

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