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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Who is Pearl Moore? Meet the woman whose college scoring record Caitlin Clark has yet to beat

Pearl Moore scored a staggering 4,061 collegiate points from 1975 to 1979 at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. (FMU)

By Mark Puleo / The Athletic

Before there was Caitlin Clark, before there was Kelsey Plum, Maya Moore, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi or even Cheryl Miller, there was Pearl Moore.

Moore is a soft-spoken, lighthearted, easily embarrassed woman who owns a colossal scoring record that has stood the test of time, though her feat had garnered scant attention before Clark’s record-book sprint. But she was far more than just a Clark prototype.

“I just really enjoyed playing basketball,” Moore said recently. “I guess I had some success.”

Moore is the hooper from Francis Marion — a tiny university in her hometown, Florence, South Carolina — who scored a staggering 4,061 collegiate points from 1975 to 1979.

“One of the greatest players to ever play the women’s game,” said Sylvia Hatchell, Moore’s coach at Francis Marion.

The Sunday after Clark topped Plum’s NCAA Division I women’s career scoring record, a minister at Moore’s church addressed the national attention Clark had received. According to Moore, he told the congregation: “Pearl, we know Caitlin Clark has broke Kelsey Plum’s record, but we all know in this church who the leading scorer actually is. And that’s you.”

Moore, 66, said that kind of attention embarrasses her, and she would rather leave her basketball successes on the court.

Those accolades began in the Carolina countryside, where she shot rubber balls through tire rims held up by peach baskets. Later, she and her family — including 11 brothers and sisters — moved to Florence, where they had playgrounds with real hoops. It was on those playgrounds where Moore developed her shooting prowess and dribbling moves to score around much bigger boys. It was also where Moore developed her competitive edge.

“She always wanted to beat them because they’d talk junk to her, but Pearl did her talking on the court,” Hatchell said.

Even after all that talking, Moore was too nervous to play basketball when she reached Wilson High School, so she skipped tryouts. When the high school coach saw Moore pick up a ball and shoot, she called for another tryout, and Moore made the team. Moore said she averaged 13 points as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore and 17 as a junior before blossoming as a senior and averaging 25 points per game.

Despite dominating high school and grassroots basketball, Moore had scholarship offers from only two colleges: one in Louisiana and another in Michigan. Moore, a homebody, wasn’t thrilled.

“Women back in those days didn’t really get all these scholarship offers and stuff like they do now,” she said. “Now you’ve got a silver platter. Before, you had to scramble around.”

Anne Long, Moore’s coach for her senior season at Wilson High School, took her on a visit to Anderson Junior College, a regional powerhouse. But after a few weeks of playing there, Moore was miserable. She drove more than three hours home every weekend and was ready to return to Florence.

So Long called Hatchell, who had never heard of Moore but drove out to the Wilson gym to watch her play. There, a two-on-two game broke out, with Long and Moore on one team and Hatchell on the other with Moore’s younger brother Jeffrey.

“And, of course, you know we beat them,” Moore said.

Hatchell was in her first season of what would become a 44-year coaching career. Hatchell spent 11 years at Francis Marion before becoming the coach at North Carolina, where she won a national championship and eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles, appeared in three Final Fours and earned induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“Whenever she wanted to come home, I couldn’t wait to get her because she was something else,” Hatchell said of Moore. “She started my career off good, I’ll tell you.”

In a Francis Marion uniform, Moore played basketball like a woman who had been teleported from a future generation. She drained shots from distance with an effortless jumper, then blew by defenders when they came out to guard her. If she had a smaller defender on her, Moore would take her to school in the post.

“I was blessed highly by my heavenly Father to have done all of those things,” Moore said.

By the time she graduated, her 4,061 points were the record for small schools in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The NCAA didn’t offer a women’s basketball tournament until 1982, and the AIAW was the primary governing body that oversaw women’s sports through the 1970s.

The NCAA does not include AIAW statistics in its record book, which is why Clark and Moore hold different records. Lynette Woodard of Kansas holds the AIAW large-school scoring record at 3,649 points, and Pete Maravich of Louisiana State holds the NCAA men’s scoring record at 3,667 points. Though Clark, a senior at Iowa, has surpassed the marks held by Woodard and Maravich, she most likely won’t catch Moore in her remaining games in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments before she heads to the WNBA this summer.

Moore finished her college career with three 50-point games, including a 60-point outing. She averaged 30.6 points per game and scored more than 1,000 points in three of her four seasons, and she did it all without the 3-point line.

“She is as good a women’s basketball player as has ever been out there,” said Michael Hawkins, who has worked in Francis Marion’s athletic department since 1981. “Just a scoring machine.”

If there had been a 3-point line, Hawkins suggested, Moore might have added 400 more points to her career total. Hatchell said “she probably would’ve had another 1,000.”

Moore said she wasn’t watching on Feb. 15, the night that Clark scored 49 points against Michigan and surpassed Plum, but those who saw Moore play say the two strike a stunning resemblance in how they could control a game.

“They’re very similar, especially both were great shooters but also had ball-handling skills, and they had a lot of assists,” Hatchell said. “For Pearl, it was a joy for her to play and to watch her play because she just smiled all the time and had her teammates laughing because she was the kid that everyone loved playing with. She made it so much fun. That’s sort of like Caitlin. They’re great because they love the game.”

With or without a comparison to Clark, Moore has loved watching the recent growth of women’s basketball, and she cherishes her place in the game’s history.

“There are so many trailblazers in the game that have laid the foundation for the game to have grown,” Moore said. “When we were coming up, we didn’t have any women to emulate because we didn’t see it on TV.”

Moore remains in Florence today, ever the homebody.

Toward the end of her time at Francis Marion, she received multiple offers to compete for the upstart Women’s Pro Basketball League. She played for the New York Stars in 1979-80 and the St. Louis Streak in 1980-81 before the league folded in 1981. Her dominance translated immediately to the professional level, and she led the Stars to a championship in her first year.

She was inducted into the Francis Marion Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

When Moore got the call from the Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, Hatchell said Moore told her, “I don’t deserve this.”

“But I said, ‘Pearl, you do deserve this for all you’ve done for the game,’” Hatchell said. “And all the greats of the game, especially all of the great men of the NBA there, they all loved her.”

These days, the gym at Wilson High School, the Florence community center and various local promotions for clinics and training sessions bear Moore’s name.

She works at the town’s post office, continuing to love the community where she found success. Of all of her accolades, the local honors mean the most.

“Out of my college career, I got three rings,” she said. “I’ve got the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame ring and my Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ring. But I’ve also got my college graduation ring, and this is the ring I’m most proud of.”

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