Road from Mary Magdalen to Dunk City has a few bumps
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Despite having all the confidence of being a young man who is 6 feet, 11 inches tall, can shake a basketball backboard with a dunk, and is pursued by several top-tier college programs, Eric Moeller was scared to death. In the spring of 2013 he was afraid his basketball career was over.
After growing up in Brentwood then hitting a massive growth spurt in high school, he received “preferred walk-on” status as a freshman at Mizzou. His plan was to practice with the team for a season, add muscle and suit up as a sophomore with a full-ride scholarship.
Moeller added muscle in Columbia. But the plan fell apart when the school saw his grades for two semesters. He was off the team.
“I was kind of forced to leave,” he said. “I messed up so bad at Mizzou that I thought my career was over. I needed so many classes that I thought there’s no way I’ll be able to do this.”
But he did it. He enrolled in a junior college, studied hard for the first time in his life, crammed seven classes into one semester and jump-started his GPA. Now he plays for a Division I team that two years ago reached the Sweet 16 and calls its gym “Dunk City.”
Eric Moeller, the skinny kid who scored his first baskets in front of his mom and a handful of other Brentwood parents in the tiny gym at St. Mary Magdalen, now plays in front of TV cameras and huge crowds for Florida Gulf Coast University. Just last week he put up nine points against Pitt before a throng of over 10,000 people. He grabbed six rebounds against the University of San Francisco, sank a three-pointer against Ohio.
“This is my second chance,” he said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it. I won’t let it pass again.”
Growing up on Louis Avenue
Moeller was born in St. Louis with height genes from both parents. His father is 6-feet-2 and has a brother who is 6-11. His mother is 5-10 and her father is 6-6.
Eric has fond memories of growing up with his mom, Lynne, in their house at 2450 Louis Ave.
“That was a fun street,” he said. “Everybody lived there: the Dees, the Coateses, the Seelbachs, the Fishers.”
He played youth sports for St. Mary Magdalen, where his basketball and baseball coaches were John Schafer and the late Bill Lynch.
“Basketball started very young with Mr. Lynch teaching me the ropes,” Moeller said. “He was like a father to me. He coached me in every sport except soccer and he even came to the soccer games — over there yelling with a cup full of Diet Pepsi in his hand [laughs]. He was a big supporter. Most of all, he made me tough. He was always yelling, which I wasn’t used to. Now if you yell at me I’m like, ‘Hey I’ve been getting screamed at since I was three years old by Mr. Lynch and Mr. Schafer.’”
Two other sports influences were his grandfathers. Bob Berry played or coached in the National Hockey League for 19 years, the last two (1992-94) as head coach for the St. Louis Blues. Lynne’s father, the 6-foot-6 Joe Moeller, pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1962-71 and is a scout for the Miami Marlins.
“He [Joe Moeller] developed me for baseball and has been my biggest supporter,” said Eric. “I call him now when I’m mentally struggling in basketball.”
De Smet Jesuit High School, 2008-12
By the time Eric finished the eighth grade at Brentwood Middle School, his mother had married and she and Eric had moved to Ladue. As a 6-foot freshman at De Smet, he was already tall for his age, but as a sophomore he grew five inches in about eight months.
“My grandpa used to tell me that he woke up one morning throwing 90 miles per hour, and that’s the way it was for me,” he said. “At some point in my sophomore year I was suddenly dunking and more athletic. I’d grown into my body.”
Eric continued to grow about two inches a year. As a 6-foot-10 senior at De Smet, he averaged 11 points and five rebounds a game as the team went 20-11 under Coach Kevin Poelker.
University of Missouri – Columbia, 2012-13
After high school Moeller was recruited by Florida Gulf Coast University and other schools but he opted to be a walk-on at Mizzou instead. He practiced with the team for several months and quickly learned about Division I speed with teammates such as Phil Pressey and Alex Oriakhi, who are now in the NBA.
“The speed is unreal,” he said. “It’s more of a mindset. You’ve got to slow everything down in your head as opposed to rushing and thinking ‘What do I gotta do?’ Just let the flow of the game come to you.”
He made no such advancements in the classroom, however, and left Columbia unsure of his future.
College of Central Florida, 2013-14
Fortunately, Florida Gulf Coast, in Fort Myers, was still interested in Moeller, though he needed a year of good grades before they’d accept him. They suggested he attend a junior college a few hours north, the College of Central Florida, in Ocala. If he worked hard he could raise his GPA while honing his basketball skills playing for what was the preseason No. 1 junior college men’s program in the U.S.
“So I took seven classes in the spring semester of 2014,” he said. “I’ve never worked so hard ever. I was in the library every day for hours.”
Moeller played in 11 games, averaging 5.5 points and three rebounds a contest. He scored 13 against State College of Florida. But more importantly he resurrected his GPA, making all A’s and B’s in those seven spring classes.
Florida Gulf Coast University, 2014-15
With his grades up and “my head on straight,” Florida Gulf Coast invited Moeller to summer practices and classes starting last June. He’d reached the big time. Two seasons earlier, FGCU had shot to national prominence in the NCAA men’s tournament by becoming the first ever No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
“In June we have a week of boot camp practices and it starts every morning at 6 a.m.,” he said. “It’s like the worst week of your life. It’s just run, run, run. That summer I got re-used to the feel of Division I – the speed, the practices.”
The season began in November and Moeller has played in all 15 games, starting in six. As of Jan. 2 he was averaging 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds a game. He’s gradually getting more playing time. After averaging 11 minutes a game in the first 13 outings, he logged a total of 42 minutes in the past two games, against Pitt and Ave Maria.
“The first game I started in was UC Santa Barbara at home and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “We sold out with like 5,000 people, it was so loud and went into overtime and we won.”
Moeller made all A’s and B’s in his fall classes. He’s majoring in communications and hopes to work for a professional sports franchise some day. Three semesters in, he’s making good on his second chance.
On Sunday night, after a coast-to-coast flight, he was riding the team bus to the hotel for Monday’s game at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He knew he’d be going one-on-one against UCSB’s top scorer Alan Williams. He knew that the 6-foot-8, 265-pound forward was recently profiled in Sports Illustrated. But Eric sounded like he was in a good mood, a guy just happy for a chance to play. A second chance to play.
“This great philosophy I had where I only did stuff I wanted to do didn’t work out too well for me,” he said. “But I’ve gained some maturity. I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
Eric Moeller by the numbers
Height: 6 feet, 11 inches; 6-10 in his socks
Weight: 218 pounds
Eats: 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day
Shoe size: 15
Pants inseam: 36 inches
De Smet Jesuit High School, 2011-12: averaged 11 ppg, 5 rpg as senior.
College of Central Florida, 2013-14: played in 11 games, 5.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 54% FG, 67% FT, 15 blocks.
Florida Gulf Coast University, 2014-15: has played in all 15 games so far, started in six games, 2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 40% FG, 50% FT.