The path Mike Moser took to Matthew Knight Arena hasn’t been easy — it’s fraught with roadblocks, detours and life-changing decisions. Now at the University of Oregon, his third school in five years, Moser’s journey has come to an end 110 short miles from where it began.
Moser was born in Dallas, Texas, and adopted by Jeanne Moser, a single mother of two in Portland.
She’s now the mother of five, four of whom were adopted.
Moser’s family is from all over the world. His older brother Danny is Brazilian. His younger brothers Antonio and David are Mexican. His cousins were adopted from Haiti, India and the Philippines. They’re all are from different backgrounds yet have a special and unbreakable bond few can relate to.
“That family is very special,” Marcos Montas, Moser’s childhood friend said. “They’re kind, they’re loving. I couldn’t say enough good things about that family.”
Jeanne raised her children as a single mother while working as a program manager at local Catholic churches and running a restaurant in northeast Portland. Roses Ice Cream has been a staple in Portland for over 60 years — and in Mike Moser’s stomach for as long as he can remember — especially the bacon burgers with cheese and Oreo milkshakes.
While looking after a handful of youngsters and running a business, Jeanne said she attended every one of Moser’s basketball games throughout high school.
“I just know the bond that we have,” Moser said. “The love that’s been developed between (my mom) and my family over the years … it feels kind of unexplainable.”
Moser grew up without a father, but his mother may as well have been mom and dad, according to Montas.
“His mom is a superstar,” Montas said. “She just has a huge heart … she is seriously amazing. I don’t understand how a single mother could do everything that she did. For all he knows, his mom is mom and dad.”
Jeanne added that Moser’s coaches were father-like mentors for him.
“He probably had the best support group and mentors that I’ve ever seen,” she said. “They’re very good mentors and they really care about the kids.”
Moser played AAU basketball for i5 ELITE, a program started by Kumbeno Memory and former NBA player and current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka. Memory gushed over Moser’s tireless work ethic and desire to keep improving.
“He just had a ton of passion for the game and was willing to work hard,” Memory said. “He had a whole lot to learn but he was willing to and he showed up every day. He was in the gym with me five, six days a week throughout all of high school.”
According to Montas, Moser was the definition of a gym rat growing up, spending entire days in the gym and playing multiple games for different teams.
“That’s what he did,” Montas said. “Then when he wasn’t doing that, we were eating.”
The hard work paid off and Moser was well-known in the basketball community long before he decided to play for the Ducks. As a standout at Grant High School, he led the Generals to the 2008 6A state championship and finished his career as the school’s all-time leading rebounder. He was named Oregon’s Mr. Basketball and earned AP honorable mention all-American honors to conclude his high school career and was left with the first of many decisions: where to play college basketball.
ESPN.com ranked Moser as the 55th best prospect in his class of incoming freshmen in 2009 with a scout grade of 92 out of 100. Moser ultimately elected to play at the University of Arizona under legendary coach Lute Olson. He was joined by fellow star recruits and eventual NBA players Solomon Hill and Derrick Williams.
The same weekend Moser visited Arizona, Olson retired after 25 years of coaching the Wildcats.
“It was weird because I had found out the news that he was retiring the day of my visit,” Moser said. “It was kind of unsettling not knowing who I was going to play for (the) next year. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Moser de-committed and visited four schools in the next two weeks — one being Oregon, before settling on UCLA. The Bruins had made three trips to the Final Four in the past four seasons, have the richest history in college basketball and boasted the eighth best freshman class.
In Moser’s freshman season, UCLA got off to an uncharacteristically bad start, losing seven of its first 10 games, including an embarrassing 27-point defeat to the University of Portland.
The Bruins finished the year 14-18 and on the outside of the NCAA tournament for the third time in 22 years. Moser averaged less than five minutes per game. In search of more playing time and a better supporting cast, Moser made another change of plans.
He transferred to UNLV and reminded everyone why he was a top recruit. After sitting out a season to fulfill his required red shirt year, Moser averaged a double-double, leading the team in points and rebounds per game and piloted the Runnin’ Rebels to a 26-9 record and a fifth NCAA tournament berth in six years.
His confidence and NBA Draft stock were high, but Moser elected to stay in school for another year to complete his undergraduate degree.
“Ultimately I really think I wanted to finish school,” Moser said. “I felt like I had come so far … as an NBA prospect I didn’t think one year would make too much of a difference.”
Moser was a preseason all-American. UNLV was ranked 18th and had the seventh best recruiting class in the nation that included Anthony Bennett. All of the pieces were in place for Moser to go out on top.
Prior to the start of the season, Moser got hit with a hip flexor and dislocated his elbow the next month, forcing him to miss seven games. He averaged 10 minutes less per game and his stats were essentially cut in half. UNLV made another tournament appearance but was ousted in its first game.
Frustrated, Moser wanted to come home for his final season of eligibility.
Degree in hand and the maddening desire to succeed irking at his will, Moser elected to transfer to Oregon over Gonzaga and Washington. He was one of head coach Dana Altman’s six transfers to begin the season.
“The way (Altman) puts guys in a position to be successful … and really I just wanted to get back home,” Moser said regarding his decision to transfer to Oregon. “My family’s here. I missed them a ton and being away from home for four years kind of got old. I just wanted to get home.”
Through 19 games at Oregon, Moser has stood out. He’s shooting career-best percentages and putting up numbers similar to his sophomore season. The Ducks have a chance to replicate their success from a season ago and Moser’s NBA hopes may have been revitalized.
But most importantly, he’s home, doing what he loves in front of the people he loves after a long and unexpected journey.
Jeanne couldn’t be happier about Moser being close to home, allowing her to attend more games.
“It’s great,” Moser said before cracking an embarrassed smile. “She comes up to every game going crazy like she always does. I go home every chance I get.”
Follow Madison Guernsey on Twitter @guernseymd