That’s life, a decade later.
Every March, 1,000-plus players reach the men’s basketball tournament. It’s easy to remember the buzzer-beaters, big-name performances and post-victory glee. It’s easier to lose track of rosters such as JMU’s, which qualified in 2013 as a No. 16 seed.
Moore’s early ambitions were common: Make the NBA and buy his parents a house. His reality is more conventional for a mid-major standout.
After graduating as JMU’s all-time assists leader, he played in Hungary, Ukraine and Germany. He hoped to be in Lithuania this winter but couldn’t get out of his contract. So he’s taking time off from the sport and staying in Columbus, Ohio, with his 7-year-old son, Harlem.
“I’m kind of thankful for that opportunity to be at home and not miss birthdays, not miss Christmas, Thanksgiving — all the little things,” Moore says.
As the 2023 NCAA tournament tips off, a new batch of young adults will introduce themselves to a national audience two hours at a time. You may never watch them play again, but they will soon face various challenges off-screen: starting families, pivoting to new careers, coping with tragedy, gaining perspective.
These are the stories of the 2013 Dukes, who captivated their Harrisonburg, Va., community before scattering across the globe for paychecks, playing time and everything a basketball life has to offer.
A.J. Davis climbed a ladder, grabbed a pair of scissors and took the final snip off a net at Richmond Coliseum. He earned it, having scored 26 points in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game to send the Dukes to the Big Dance for the first time in 19 years.
Today, victories are smaller and more difficult to measure.
During a break from a sprawling professional career, Davis lost his legs in an accident in May 2021. He had exited his car near a highway intersection to donate food to a homeless man when he was struck by a driver who “appeared to show signs of impairment from alcohol and/or drugs,” according to a crash report released by the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
His young daughter was in the car with him that night in Columbus and called her mother to report what happened. Doctors induced a coma and amputated Davis’s limbs to save him.
He’s still processing how his life has changed.
In 2013, Davis was a talented forward amid an inconsistent senior season at JMU. On the eve of the conference tournament, the CAA announced all-league honors at a banquet; Davis entered the ballroom eager to see which awards he and his teammates might win.
Dinner was served, speeches were delivered, and JMU was barely represented.
“I took that personally,” Davis says now. He retreated to his hotel room and felt a fire building within him. He wasn’t resentful, he says — just motivated. Three days, three wins and 62 points later, he was named most outstanding player of the CAA tournament.
Davis says he is not resentful these days, either — not of his circumstances — even if he might have reason to be.
Pro basketball took him to South Dakota, Mexico, Canada and Iraq, and now that part of his life is in the past, involuntarily. He occasionally hoops in a wheelchair league, and though he was optimistic about playing on prosthetics, he could never get comfortable in them.
He stays around family and friends to keep himself upbeat and plays “Call of Duty” to pass the time. Moore, his cousin, has urged him to become a motivational speaker because he has a story to tell and people who will listen. Davis is open to the idea and motivates himself using the mind-set he developed as an athlete.
“Don’t let this hinder you,” he constantly thinks. “Don’t let this break you down.”
A ‘pretty cool’ living overseas
When the Dukes were done celebrating the CAA tournament title in Richmond, they headed home to Harrisonburg and continued through the morning at an apartment complex near campus. “That might have been the funnest party ever,” Ron Curry, then a freshman guard, says.
Later that week, on Selection Sunday, the Dukes held a watch party at their arena and learned their first NCAA tournament assignment: a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, against Long Island.
The Dukes were rolling, and an emphatic win against LIU prompted CBS commentator Jim Nantz to call them “the best 16 seed I’ve ever seen.” (This was five years before UMBC stunned Virginia.)
JMU’s reward was No. 1 Indiana, and as you would expect, Indiana won comfortably, 83-62.
So this is where JMU’s story ends — at least as far as the viewing public’s exposure to it.
Indiana continued its journey to the Sweet 16 in D.C., where the Hoosiers were upset by Syracuse. Three months later, Indiana stars Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were selected No. 2 and No. 4 in the NBA draft.
JMU players, meanwhile, saw their 15 minutes expire, even if their relationships with basketball were just beginning to grow.
Curry scored just two points against Indiana and says now that was the first time he ever felt inferior on the court. He vowed to improve and did so each year, becoming the Dukes’ best player as an upperclassman. He never made it back to the tournament, though, and JMU hasn’t, either.
With Oladipo and Zeller in the midst of long, lucrative NBA careers, Curry began a professional life of one-year contracts dotting Europe, including a stint in Hungary, where covid interrupted a season, wrecked teams’ budgets and, as he puts it, “f—ed my money up.”
Hungary wasn’t all bad: There, Curry won a league championship in 2019. There, he also met an Austrian he plans to marry. They have two children — a 3-year-old daughter and a son who just turned 1.
Curry now plays on a six-figure contract in France — in the same league as super-prospect Victor Wembanyama. He splits his offseasons between Vienna and New Jersey, where he grew up.
“I didn’t think that this is how my life would go,” he said, “but it’s been pretty cool.”
In JMU’s loss to Indiana, the leading scorer was a mostly anonymous freshman named Andre Nation who played and spoke with undeniable swagger.
After Nation dazzled with 24 points on a national stage, he put any transfer rumors to rest. “I’m staying,” the swingman said. “All four years I’m staying.”
He never gave himself the chance.
Entering his sophomore year as the Dukes’ billboard player, Nation failed two drug tests, drawing a half-season suspension. Then, as a junior, he drunkenly fought a teammate; he was arrested, suspended and later kicked off the team. He dropped out of JMU and attended Brewton-Parker College in Georgia. He didn’t make it there, either.
“Partying, partying, partying,” Nation says, ashamed because his parents raised him better. He admits he was “spiraling.”
Adrift, Nation eventually returned to Harrisonburg and was helping out at the city’s high school. The coach there had a connection to a club in Ireland.
In 2018, on Nation’s 25th birthday, he signed a deal with Tradehouse Central Ballincollig in Cork for $1,000 per month.
“I can make more money working at Burger King,” he thought, but he figured the opportunity superseded the paycheck.
Nation was named MVP in Ireland’s second league. He earned more money. He helped the club get promoted to the top tier. After becoming a star overseas, he latched on with a better league in Germany.
He would like to work his way up to a six-figure contract. Then, he figures, he’ll be set. He acknowledges, at 29, he’s getting old for a pro basketball player. He also might be just getting started.
“I want to play till I’m 44,” he said of his long-term goals. “I just want to keep playing.”
Dimitrije Cabarkapa dutifully watched film of opposing big men. If the Serbian wasn’t going to compete as a freshman, he could at least provide value by mimicking upcoming opponents at practice.
“I worked my butt off that year,” Cabarkapa says of the 2012-13 season, when he served as an uplifting presence on the bench during the Dukes’ joyful run.
Cabarkapa values work ethic. It’s how he graduated from JMU in three years, got a master’s there, too, and then earned a Ph.D in exercise physiology at Kansas. Cabarkapa proudly says he works 65 to 70 hours a week as the director of basketball research at the Jayhawk Athletic Performance Laboratory.
“What do I like to do in my free time? I do research in my free time,” he says one afternoon in the midst of a study.
He is in a gym gathering data for a paper; his research team takes saliva samples of athletes to measure their testosterone and cortisol while under physical stress. The data will be analyzed, written, peer-reviewed.
This is not the life the Novi Sad native envisioned when, unfamiliar with the recruiting process, he committed to JMU during his lone campus visit. He figured after college he would play professionally in Serbia. Instead, his exposure to college basketball and his schoolwork ignited a passion for exercise science.
Cabarkapa played four more seasons at JMU, but he remembers his redshirt year fondly. Teammates called him “Big Serb” and taught him the ways of America through slang and hip-hop. A decade later, he connects with those teammates through social media; they support his research, and he keeps up with their basketball careers.
“I think that is success,” Cabarkapa says. “All of us are making steps forward. … We all choose different paths in our life, but we are making progress.”
A year before capturing a conference title, Coach Matt Brady hobbled into a postgame news conference with a torn Achilles’ and an uncertain job status.
His team’s injury issues were so deep that Brady suited up at practice in 2012 so the Dukes could play five-on-five. He was a former point guard, but he was also in the back half of his 40s. Brady felt a pop and let out a yell.
Brady coached on crutches as his team staggered to a 12-20 finish. “If they judge me on this season,” he said after a first-round CAA tournament loss, “then, yeah, this is probably my last game.”
The school had hired Brady from Marist in 2008, hoping he could turn around a program that had been falling since Lefty Driesell prowled the sideline in the 1990s.
His results, through four years, were mixed: 67 wins, 67 losses. One year remained on his contract, and JMU let him ride it out.
“It was an unusual circumstance,” Brady, 57, says now, “but I was comfortable with it because I loved my players, they loved each other, and they felt like they could win.”
The Dukes started the make-or-break season 1-5, but Brady found the right formula with small ball and a vicious defense. Minutes after capturing the CAA tournament title, his tone was vastly different from 356 days earlier: “I’m looking forward to being here for a long time,” he said.
Brady received a contract extension and coached three more seasons before the school fired him in 2016.
He hasn’t been a head coach since, and he hasn’t been back at JMU.
He spent a year as an assistant at La Salle and then four years on Mark Turgeon’s staff at Maryland. This past summer, Brady was named an assistant at Oklahoma — the New Jersey native’s first job away from the East Coast — but he resigned, citing personal reasons, just days before the season.
Brady has attended practices of coaching friends this winter as he tries to line up his next gig.
Asked if he has ambitions to be a head coach again, Brady says, “Not necessarily.” The response may sound ambivalent but signals his ultimate desire: He can’t endure another season away from basketball.
The point guard’s sacrifice
Leroy, a carpenter, and Carolyn, a beautician, met in Columbus and had four children. When their youngest, Devon Moore, went on to become the point guard at JMU, they would drive more than six hours each way to see just about every game.
Moore’s senior year — the Dukes’ championship season — their trips to the Shenandoah Valley stopped. Doctors discovered a tumor in Carolyn’s brain, so Moore was the one going west to visit his mother. He would often miss practice and once showed up at a road game moments before tip-off.
That year, Moore navigated highs on the court with significant stress at home. A decade later, when he considers what he learned from his parents — and how he can effectively serve as one to his son — his first word is “sacrifice.” Moore has been weighing his own sacrifices since graduating.
He started his career in Hungary and came home when his mother died. He then played in Ukraine and was “terrified for my life” when the war with Russia began in 2014. He took a bit of time off, welcomed his son in 2015 and began sacrificing for him.
In recent years, when Moore would leave for a new season in Germany, his son would cry himself silly. “When I was younger, I really didn’t like it,” Harlem says one afternoon last summer. “And now that I’m older, I still don’t like it.”
Harlem is standing inside JMU’s sleek new arena, not far from the old Convocation Center where Dad starred as a selfless distributor and lockdown defender. Several 2013 Dukes are there to train ahead of an alumni tournament. Most arrived the previous day, but Moore drove overnight from Ohio; he didn’t want Harlem to miss football practice.
In the gym, during a stop in the workout, Harlem challenges his dad to heave a half-court shot and gleefully yells “Miss!” after an air ball. Moore rims out another and gets on the ground for 10 push-ups as penance.
Summers are precious father-son time, when Moore co-parents with Harlem’s mother before departing for a new season and trying to contribute from afar. This year, during his basketball break, Moore has more time with his son than usual.
He works the early shift at Amazon — popping an energy drink to begin a long day on his feet — and leaves midway through to drive home and get Harlem dressed and off to school. After he finishes work, he picks up Harlem, helps with homework and takes him to practice.
As Harlem’s football has gotten more serious, Moore has traveled across state lines to chaperone him. He is now the doting dad with the athlete son — proud of Harlem for his tackles on the field and his strong report card at school.
Moore is optimistic that his contract situation will be sorted out by next season, at which point he can resume his playing career. Then again, he’s 33, and his son will turn 8 in April. He considers what, moving forward, he’s really willing to sacrifice.