29 Th11 2021 | 08:08
In preparation for Grand Canyon’s regular-season opener Tuesday against Grambling State, GCU head coach Bryce Drew recently called over Sean Miller-Moore for an individual video session he often holds with his players.
The Lopes fifth-year forward was bracing himself to see his mistakes pointed out to him. Instead, he watched highlights of his late friend and teammate Oscar Frayer, whose GCU jersey was tattooed on Miller-Moore’s left thigh this summer.
Almost seven months after losing Frayer in a vehicle crash, the Lopes will start a season in his memory at 7 p.m. Tuesday with Miller-Moore striving to lift his team and the GCU Arena crowd as Frayer once did.
“Coach showed me how I could impact the game like Oscar and be used the same way and have that meaning to the team,” Miller-Moore said. “When he was showing me film, it honestly made me feel better. I went into it thinking he was going to show me where I messed up and showing me Oscar was like, ‘Wow.’ It feels good knowing I can fill his shoes.”
Miller-Moore opted to used a COVID-19 waiver to return to GCU for his fifth year because of how the program and Frayer embraced him.
Upon Miller-Moore’s transfer from Oregon State, he and Frayer connected quickly last year because of shared tragedy. They both lost parents at a young age.
Miller-Moore was 5 when his father, Shawn, died of lung cancer at age 5 and his mother, Livette, died 14 months later from a bullet aimed elsewhere in a nightclub mass shooting.
The friends had talks about life and basketball until 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. in their campus apartments. Admittedly emotional on his sixth school stop through high school and college, Miller-Moore found Frayer and the staff providing support and stability that he never had experienced previously.
Miller-Moore keeps Frayer’s encouraging texts of “Keep your head up” and “Play your game” as reminders of his focus and Frayer.
“A lot of it is where you feel comfortable and where you feel people truly care about you,” Drew said. “I think part of the reason he came back is that he knows our coaching staff cares about him as more than a basketball player. Whatever this season brings for him on the court, we’re going to care for him more off the court.
“The growth that we’ve seen in Sean, on and off the court, has been fun from a personal side. We really like that he’s trying to take on more of a role for leadership with other players.”
Miller-Moore can see some of his emotions in senior teammate Taeshon Cherry, an Arizona State transfer who he counsels in much the same way that Frayer did for him.
But after being a key reserve to last season’s WAC regular-season and tournament champions, Miller-Moore could expand his role into the starting swingman spot that Frayer held all season.
“I’m honored to play his role,” Miller-Moore said.
Miller-Moore will be asked to cover other teams’ top scorers and can also ignite the crowd with high-flying dunks, but the Toronto native brings more of a driving, playmaking slant offensively than Frayer’s 3-point shooting.
“Oscar did so many things for us that didn’t show up in the stat sheet,” Drew said. “Sean has the potential to make some of those turnaround plays that Oscar made and those slashing offensive and defensive plays. We need Sean to do those things for us.”
Miller-Moore was more recognized last season for helping the nation’s No. 2 field-goal percentage defense (38.3%), but he also had the team’s second-best assist rate of the rotation regulars.
“I know the coaches trust me to make plays on and off the ball,” Miller-Moore said. “I know my main need is to bring energy, rebounding, defending. When I’m doing that role, it helps me offensively. It’s weird how it works. Once you’re playing defense well, things fall in your favor offensively.”
Miller-Moore’s passion is translating more into plays off the court instead of talks off the court.
His maturation is seen on the court with Miller-Moore trying to follow the staff’s call for “servant leadership” by giving high effort with each cut or sprint. It is also seen off the court, where Miller-Moore became his Jamaican-immigrated family’s first college graduate.
Miller-Moore earned his undergraduate degree in Sociology and is pursuing a graduate degree in, appropriately, Leadership.
“I’m passionate on the court, but the coaches had no idea why at first,” Miller-Moore said. “They knew my story, but they didn’t know how much basketball meant to me and how much a family means to me. I don’t want to say I don’t have a family, but I don’t have the father and mother figure that a lot of other people have. This family inside GCU means so much to me because this is my family besides my grandmother, my aunt and my siblings at home. These are like my cousins and brothers.”