College basketball: Gore making the grade

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 31, 2009

By Mike London
Few places are steamier or more boring than Hartsville, S.C., in the summer, but Michael Gore is where he wants to be.
Hartsville, population 7,556, is the home of Coker College’s Division II Cobras, and Gore, who graduated from South Rowan in 2006, stays busy lifting, running and mentally preparing for what will be his final season of competitive basketball.
Gore is 6-foot-5, but he’s realized since he was 13 he wouldn’t play in the NBA.
He’s understood since he tore the ACL in his left knee playing quarterback for South Rowan’s football team his junior year that he’d lack the explosiveness required for big-time college sports.
Still, he’s always made the most of the physical gifts he has, and the rehab he went through with his knee in high school changed the direction of his life.
The lady who orchestrated Gore’s rehab program was so good at what she did that Gore actually started looking forward to each grueling session. A light bulb flashed in his head one afternoon and he realized what his career choice had to be. What job could be more useful than helping an injured athlete run and jump and laugh again?
“She made me love what she was doing,” Gore said. “Young or old, whatever the sport the injury occurred in, she came up with activities and drills that made people work.”
Since his left knee was restored to relative health, every jump shot Gore has taken, every rebound he’s pulled down and every free throw he’s practiced has had a purpose. Get a scholarship. Get an education. Get into grad school. Become a physical therapist.
Gore still is on track to achieve his long-term goal even though the college scholarship that looked automatic when he averaged 12.1 points per game as an all-county sophomore basketball player took a long time to materialize.
Gore lost his junior season to the knee injury, but he was dunking forcefully again by his senior year. He averaged 11.6 points, put up 30 against Mount Tabor and returned to the all-county team.
Still, school was nearly out in the spring of 2006 when South coach John Davis dispatched Gore and teammates W.J. Parks and Josh Chapman to Hartsville for a tryout in front of Coker coach Dan Schmotzer. That tryout led to an offer that topped anything the Gores had gotten.
Gore has contributed on the court for the Cobras. He mostly paid dues as a freshman, but he averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds as one of the first guys off the bench as a sophomore.
As a junior, his numbers (5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds) and minutes dipped a bit, mostly because of a groin injury. But he started seven times at power forward and shot 55 percent from the field.
“The injury was tough and Coach worried about playing me early,” Gore said. “But by midway through, I was starting. It was a good year for the team. We won three games in the last seconds, and that’s crazy. That’s what stands out more than any individual game I had.”
Coker (15-14) swept Pfeiffer and Queens, two of the stronger programs in Conference Carolinas. Besides competing in a talented league that also includes Mount Olive, Barton and Belmont Abbey, Gore suited up against Division I East Carolina, Liberty and Coastal Carolina. Gore scored 12 points in a surprising romp against Coastal.
Gore’s senior season will include an early exhibition game against Pitt. He’s smart enough to know what’s going to happen, but he’s still looking forward to the experience of banging against Big East-caliber athletes.
Gore and “smart” show up in the same sentence frequently. He made the All-Conference Carolinas Academic team as a junior, made Coker’s Dean’s List and was on the National Dean’s List. He also was inducted into the National College Athlete Honor Society.
Obviously, competing in D-II basketball takes time away from the library and the long bus trips force him to miss classes. But he’s been disciplined enough to stay on top of things, even if it means reading a biology textbook on the charter while teammates are listening to music and taking it easy.
“We do a lot of riding so I do a lot of reading,” Gore said. “One good situation is I’m done with class at 1 and practice doesn’t start until 3 or 4. That’s a couple of hours I try to use. I’ve done my share of afternoon naps, but it’s either do what I need to do school-wise and have a good career or spend my life flipping burgers.”
Gore doesn’t appear to be headed toward the fast-food industry, and he anticipates spending his senior season in the Cobras’ starting lineup.
He’ll take the Graduate Record Examination in a few weeks and hopes to perform well enough to be accepted into a physical therapy graduate program. His first choice of grad schools is the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, but East Carolina and Winston-Salem State also are on his radar.
But there’s still one more basketball season to play, and every Coker victory will be one small step leading toward Gore’s ultimate goal.
“I feel lucky to have had of the experiences I’ve had รณ even the injury,” he said. “I had good enough grades and played basketball well enough to pay for my education. And I know what I want do with it.”