Little Big Shot
Work ethic has helped PCHS's J.C. Moll become one of the state's best players
J.C. Moll, a freshman at the time, receives some instructions from head coach Bob Waggoner during a break in the action of Moll's first varsity basketball game in January of 2015. (Doug Daniels file photo)
By Doug Daniels
1351sports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com
March 8, 2018
(Pinckneyville, Ill.) - The images of J.C. Moll's four-point play, overtime-forcing lay-up, and big three in the extra period of Tuesday's Super-Sectional against Mt. Carmel are still fresh in the minds of Panther basketball fans heading into this weekend's State Finals in Peoria, but you won't find many people at this point that are surprised by Moll's knack for making big plays.
The 5'10 senior point guard had a crucial three-point play late in the fourth quarter against Nashville back on January 5 to help the Panthers remain unbeaten in conference play. He had a steal and a lay-up to give Pinckneyville the lead for good in the closing minutes of their hard-fought win at Anna-Jonesboro on February 2. The next night, he made the assist on Grant Jausel's overtime game winner against cross-county rival Du Quoin, in addition to a buzzer-beating, half-court three-pointer at the end of the first quarter that later proved to be vital for PCHS.
But Moll's big moments didn't just pop up out of nowhere this season. His tendency to make plays at key moments in ball games can be traced all the way back to the first shot he ever took in a varsity game moments after he checked into the lineup for the first time in his career on January 16, 2015.
Pinckneyville was battling at Carterville for positioning in the conference title race against a Lions team led by the Galik twins, Will and Matt. Missing two key post players, and facing early foul trouble, head coach Bob Waggoner was forced to go deep into his bench for some minutes with his team trailing by six in the opening quarter of play.
Into the game stepped Jimmie Charles Moll, a freshman who - in the words of then teammate, now assistant coach, Nolan Luke - was "5'8, 100 pounds soaking wet."
"Even though at that time he was physically immature, he was mentally mature and showed a lot of toughness in practice," Waggoner said. "I've always believed that players earn the right to play, and he was one of those kids who came into practice every day and competed, and he proved the fact that he could handle (varsity basketball)."
Moll's first career shot was (what else?) a three-pointer, just when the Panthers needed one to stay within striking distance. They would later go on to win the game 55-44 and take over second place in the SIRR Mississippi Division from the Lions.
J.C. Moll buries a three from half-court to end the first period against Du Quoin on February 3. (Doug Daniels file photo)
Along with remembering his initial reaction to Waggoner telling him he was going in ("Oh my gosh"), Moll recalls his first bucket vividly.
"I remember exactly what happened," Moll said. "Brian Taylor brought the ball up the floor, and I swung through on a fast break. He passed me the ball and said 'shoot it,' and it was off of one pass, so I was really nervous. Normally Coach Waggoner doesn't want us to shoot it off of one pass. I shot it, it went in. A couple minutes later there was a timeout, and Coach Waggoner told me to keep shooting. That kind of eased my nerves a little bit."
There are exceptions to every rule, but it's rare to see a PCHS freshman get the call to make his varsity debut in a key conference road game.
"We had told him in practice we thought he could play, and that there would be some openings where he could shoot the ball," Waggoner said. "J.C.'s always been a good shooter. When his number was called, he just ran in and did his job. A lot of the people in the crowd were surprised, but I wasn't, I'd seen what he could do in practice."
So, how did Moll transform from a vertically-challenged role player into an All-State caliber kid leading his team to the State Finals? His junior high basketball coach, Josh Plumlee, says the symptoms were there all along.
"As far as hours spent working on basketball," Plumlee said, "I don't think I've ever seen a kid spend as many hours as he did - unforced. It was just his dedication, his desire, his goal. What's most impressive about that is that I don't feel like he was doing it for himself. He's a very team-oriented kid as you can tell by watching him play. He was, in my opinion, as a seventh grader, one of the smallest kids I've seen out on the floor, but so knowledgeable and fundamentally sound compared to almost anybody on the court. It was impressive. He was so smart. His basketball IQ is through the roof."
The Pinckneyville varsity team Moll was a part of his freshman season was, like this year's squad, loaded with seniors. One of those seniors was Luke, who is now working under Waggoner as an assistant coach. Luke said that he and the other seniors on the team also knew early on that Moll was going to be a special player.
"He was always level-headed, never got out of his element," said Luke. "He did what he was supposed to do, didn't try to do too much. He always listened to the older guys and tried to do what we told him to do, tried to soak it all in. We knew he was going to be a special kid. He was always in the gym working hard, never took a day off, and he's still like that today."
Moll said he looked up to those seniors, particularly Luke and Taylor, and has modeled parts of his game after them.
"I liked the way Brian pushed the ball, the way he handled the ball, and how quick he was," said Moll. "I wanted to be that quick. I worked on my ball-handling between my freshman and sophomore years, ended up being the starting point guard the next three years, so I think that played a big factor. And with Nolan, it was his leadership."
J.C. Moll during Tuesday's Super-Sectional, where he had a game-high 22 points for Pinckneyville, including a four-point play and a lay-up to force overtime late in regulation. (Doug Daniels photo)
(L-R) Seniors Tyler Rice, Tanner Spihlmann, J.C. Moll, Kyle Luke and Grant Jausel prepare to celebrate near the conclusion of Tuesday's Super-Sectional victory over Mt. Carmel. (Doug Daniels photo)
Like Plumlee, Waggoner too pinpointed Moll's work ethic as a major factor in his maturation as a basketball player.
"One of the things about J.C. is he loves the game, and he works at it," Waggoner said. "He's a gym rat. To be that type of player, you have to be a kid that loves to be in the gym and loves to play. Whether it's 100 degrees in the gym or the middle of winter and you have to trek through snow to get there, J.C.'s always in there. Even (Wednesday), we had little kids in there watching us practice, and they stay after, and he's in there playing with them. The passion for the game is the number one thing, and when you add in his work ethic, all those things come together to have the opportunity to be successful."
Moll is bigger, taller, stronger, and flat-out better than that scrawny kid who likely didn't even show up on Carterville's scouting report the night he made his debut. His growth, both physically and mentally, is reflected in his statistics. After playing in just 9 games as a freshman, he began to blossom a year later as the starting point guard, scoring 169 points in 32 games (5.3 ppg) and leading the team in steals with 46.
Last season, when he was an Associated Press All-State Honorable Mention, Moll's scoring increased to 8.5 points per game, he again led the team in steals (50), he shot 44% on three pointers (45-of-103), and his assist-to-turnover ratio doubled.
This year, all the numbers improved again. Through Tuesday's Super-Sectional, Moll is averaging 13.2 points per game, has made 59-of-126 three pointers for 47%, has recorded 54 steals, and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1 (126 assists, 47 turnovers). His free throw percentage has also risen over ten percentage points every season since he was a sophomore, and sits at 88% in 2017-18 (85-for-97).
"I think we've seen a maturation of his game and his physical presence," Waggoner said. "Even though he's not an overpowering kid, the thing that J.C. has continued to work on is his skill set. His ball-handling, his quickness, his passing has continued to get better. He's always had great court vision and a sense of the game. I think he's become a much stronger player just growing and working on his body in the weight room, doing the things that it takes to become a more physical presence on the court."
With all the accomplishments and big moments, one might expect a player of that caliber to carry himself with a bit of arrogance, or a sense of entitlement. Not Moll.
"I don't think anyone can imagine how good of a kid he is," Plumlee said. "How dedicated he is to his school work, how he treats other people, how he comes out to (#204 school) still and doesn't feel like it's beneath him to take his time and show the young kids he cares about them. You see a kid that good (at basketball), and often times you'd expect him to be arrogant, cocky. He's the exact opposite. He's the most humble, kind, down-to-earth kid that you'll ever meet. I don't think he's got a hateful bone in his body."
Waggoner agreed, adding that Moll has "a great sense of humor."
"He's a funny kid, he's a cut-up," Waggoner said. "A lot of kids would even say he's kind of goofy. I think his personality is really good, and that's why he's calm under pressure. He understands the situation, but he doesn't let it bother him. He's mature beyond his years."
"He's one of the best students in our school. He's around a 3.9 GPA, high SAT math score, he's about a 27 ACT, he's one of the top ten in his class. The thing for me is his personality, he has a really funny sense of humor and most people don't know that about him."
J.C. Moll, pictured in this year's Regional against Gibault, is averaging 13.2 points per game, shooting 47% on three-pointers, 88% on free throws, and has recorded a team-high 54 steals for the Panthers. (Doug Daniels photo)
Moll's big shots during the Super-Sectional win for the Panthers have etched his name in the history books at Pinckneyville already, but he's still got two more games to go in his high school basketball career. That's plenty of time for Moll, and his teammates, to write an even more satisfying conclusion to their story.
"I've had a lot of people ask me about (the Super-Sectional), how good it felt," Moll said. "Honestly, it's probably the best feeling I've ever felt. It was amazing."
"Going to the State Finals, knowing that I only have two more games left in my high school career, it just kind of hits me, like where did it all go?"
Moll and the Panthers (31-3) return to action on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. against Winnebago in the IHSA Class 2A State Semifinals at the Peoria Civic Center. The winner moves on to the State Championship game on Saturday at 7:15 p.m., the loser falls into the third place game Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Chicago (Orr) and Bloomington (Central Catholic) face off in Friday's other semifinal.