EAST CHICAGO | All of E.C. Central's boys basketball team went bowling in December. Three Cardinals had birthdays at the time, so coach Pete Trgovich took them to the lanes and traded in their Nikes for the funky two-toned kickers. The team and staff had a ball.

"There was E'Twaun (Moore) singing this birthday song, and a bunch of guys acting like little kids, in a positive sense," Trgovich said. "I thought that was the greatest thing in the world."

Moore will play for Matt Painter at Purdue next year. He's E.C. Central's all-time leading scorer (1,830) and rebounder (662). The 6-foot-4 guard is The Times Player of the Year for the 2006-07 season, after leading the Cardinals to the Class 4A state championship.

But if you met Moore at the mall, you wouldn't confuse him for any out-of-touch superstar. Especially after he smiled and said hello, helped you with the door, or said thank you when he let you go ahead of him in line.

"E'Twaun would kick your butt for two hours on the court, but when the game was over you just wanted to give him a hug," Hammond coach Larry Moore said. "He's that great of a kid. He's a high-character kid."

As Moore was scoring a game-high 28 points in last Saturday's 87-83 championship game win at Conseco Fieldhouse, besting Indianapolis North Central's Eric Gordon (Indiana), Moore looked like the kind of athlete whom many see on ESPN, pushing an old lady out of their way.

He rose up and nailed a 3-pointer over Gordon. He dunked over two other Panthers players. He guarded Gordon. And he smiled the biggest smile in Conseco when the buzzer sounded.

"It was a dream come true," Moore said. "It was something we did for a lot of people. Our parents. Our community. Former players. Everyone in East Chicago. It was very passionate for us to win."

Coming onto the Region scene as a freshman and starting guard for coach Bobby Miles, Moore averaged 15.1 points a game against players three-plus years older. His next season he was the big double-double, averaging 20.6 points and 10.4 rebounds. As a junior he averaged 23.1 points a game in Trgovich's first year.

And this year he averaged 21.9, with more talent around, including big men Kawann Short and Angel Garcia. And he played brilliantly with fellow guards Terry Weathers and DeAndre Jones.

Moore and his mates were hammered by Penn in last year's regional semifinal. They used the 73-45 loss as motivation. They also used the "underdog" tag at Conseco last weekend, when Moore outscored everybody else's Mr. Basketball.

"Hey, Gordon is real good," Weathers said. "But my money's on E'Twaun. He's the best player in the state. That's just my opinion, but I think it's right."

After cutting down the nets in Indy, the spoils of victory have been coming. Moore was named the Associated Press' Most Valuable Player, then was named to the Indiana AP first-team all-state, along with Valparaiso's Scott Martin and Robbie Hummel. In addition, he was selected a Parade Magazine third-team all-America.

Now, he must wait to see if he did enough in the championship game to garner enough votes to earn Mr. Basketball.

"I believe that character can take you a long way, I try to do things right," Moore said. "I hope I win it (Mr. Basketball). That would be nice. I don't know what else to say about that."