By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It was one of those times when everything you do comes out gold, when you can do no wrong.
And to Zach Moss, the former MSU star, the 2004 run to the NAIA national championship was one of those times.
Moss — the most popular player ever at Mountain State, not to mention the best — knew it was coming. Add prophet to his list of attributes. Small-time cult hero. Best player to wear blue and white. And prophet. Not a bad threesome.
“I had this little notepad, and after the 2003 season I wrote down all my goals for 2004,” Moss said from France, where he is still playing professional basketball. “I wanted to win the championship, win player of the year, make first-team All-American, win tournament MVP, win region MVP. I wrote it all down.”
And in one dominant postseason run, Moss accomplished it all.
MSU has a chance to return to the top, battling Oklahoma Baptist tonight at 9 p.m. in the NAIA Fab Four.
But it’s important to trace the Moss run back a few years.
“When I was in high school (in Florida) we lost in the state championship game,” Moss said. “Every time we got to a championship, I lost.”
Same thing happened at MSU his junior year, after he transferred from Florida A&M.
The Cougars, riding the hot play of Reynardo Curry, advanced to the national title game, losing in overtime to Concordia, Calif.
“I found out we lost to Concordia on (assistant) coach (Dave) Barksdale’s birthday,” Moss said. “That almost made me cry. I was not going to lose in 2004.”
He didn’t, averaging 29 points and 12 rebounds as MSU beat Concordia 74-70 in MSU’s lone national championship victory.
That performance is still remembered. Moss was named to the NAIA’s 75th anniversary team.
“It’s special,” Moss said, after ordering KFC, in French. “My time in that city was special. I loved those guys, the coaches, my teammates. We had a lot of good times. It was a total team. Kortaa (Hall), Zane (Gilliard, now an assistant), Dwight (Anglade), TZ (Mersad Terzic) and Eddie (Starks), all played well. And of course, A.J.”
Ah, yes, A.J., Adrian Jackson, Moss’ former high school teammate and the sparkplug for MSU’s run at point guard.
In a win-one-for-the-Gipper moment, it was Jackson who inspired Moss.
He had gotten injured in the title game and Concordia was making a a late push.
“We go over to the bench during a timeout and A.J. looks at me and he’s got tears in his eyes,” Moss said. “He said, ‘We can’t lose this game.’ I said, ‘We ain’t losing.’ And I knew right there we were winning that game. I just could not lose that game after that.”
And that is the paradox that is Zach Moss. A beast on the floor, a big teddy bear off. Just a big kid at heart.
“Zach dominated that national tournament,” MSU coach Bob Bolen said. “He had a lot of good pieces around him, but he was the best player we ever had at Mountain State. Not only was he a dominating player, he was an intimidating player. His vertical was so high, he would dunk on top of people bigger than he was (at 6-foot-7). That would change games. He was feared in the low post.”
And the most loved. Post-games turned into the Moss show, when he always had a long line of quotable material and a longer line of local kids following him around.
“I used to love coming to the gym but coach Barksdale would never let me work the (MSU basketball) camp,” Moss said. “He said they’d never get any work done because the kids would all be looking at me and I’d do something goofy. He was right about that. I’m 30 now and I’m still the same way.”
The stories are also legendarily comedic.
After beating Georgetown, Ky., in the Fab Four in 2004, he saw Tigers’ coach Happy Osborne walking across the street in Kansas City.
“I told him to have a safe trip back to Georgetown,” Moss said. “I was just trying to be nice. I think coach thought I was being a smart (aleck).”
“Not only was Zach the best player, but he was one of the most enjoyable players we ever had here,” Bolen said. “I love the kid.”