I joined the staff of Swish Appeal this year, and I hope it's been as much fun for you as it's been for me. One thing I will always be grateful to SBNation for, is the credential it got me to attend UConn women's basketball games this season. It's always fun to see a game in person; to see excellence is even better. But to see Maya Moore up close and in person the way that I have this season...well, that's something that I will always be thankful about.
Unfortunately, all good things seem to come to an end, and tonight is Senior Night at Storrs, Connecticut. It is a chance for the fans to salute Moore and her fellow senior Lorin Dixon, who I don't wish to slight or ignore in any way. However, the purpose of this blog is to try to summarize Maya Moore, the player, and Maya Moore the teammate in the words of those that would know best. I hope you enjoy it.
You've seen Miss Maya, as coined by the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla, on television, but in person she is something to behold. She possesses strength, speed, and quickness rarely seen in any basketball player, regardless of sex. The best look at her unbelievable skill set was done by ESPN in one of their Sports Science segments.
UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma has seen Moore as much as anyone ever has (except for maybe his assistance coaches). Who better than to break down her jump shot, and describe what makes it so special?
While he certainly has the well-earned reputation of being a tough coach, there are times when Auriemma gives you a glimpse into what brings his players back again and again. You can tell that he feels he is the fortunate one, having Maya on his teams for four years. You can tell that he is really hopeful that she is enjoying her senior year, and that he hopes it ends in only one way...cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
Van Chancellor has seen and coached the best over his Hall of Fame coaching career. Swoopes, Cooper, Thompson, Taurasi, Leslie, Catchings...the list goes on and on. So earlier this season, when LSU's head coach talked about Moore after his team was defeated by UConn at Storrs, it was quite an endorsement of her greatness.
USA Basketball has seen some of the best of Moore's game. She has already won gold medals in 2010 FIBA World Championship, 2009 World University Games, 2007 FIBA U19 World Championship ,and the 2006 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. It was with that FIBA Americas team that DePaul head coach Doug Bruno first got to work with Maya Moore. He has seen her from both sidelines now, opponent in the Big East, and on his own teams as head and assistant coach on USA Basketball squads. With that experience, when Coach Bruno talks about what makes Maya Moore special, it's worth noting.
Earlier this season, Moore passed Tina Charles to become the All-Time leading scorer at Connecticut. When you consider the names of the past at UConn, like Charles, Taurasi, Lobo, Bird, Cash, and so on, it's quite the feat. She broke the record in true Maya fashion, calmly, quickly and without fanfare during the game. But the fans knew what was happening, and they filled the XL Center on a Sunday afternoon to see the game and honor Miss Maya. Coach Auriemma talked about breaking the record.
We can see that Maya plays the game at an elevated level. We can see the hustle and determination she brings to the court. But it takes a teammate to know about the work ethic, the practice demeanor, the leadership off the court, and the friendship that goes with being a special type of player. Junior guard Tiffany Hayes, with Miss Maya along with Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery, Kalana Greene and others, had not lost a game in a Connecticut uniform prior to this season, and has already won two national championships. She talked about having Maya Moore as a teammate for her entire UConn career.
This year has been a tougher year for Moore and for UConn. A new cast, with Maya and Hayes joined by two freshmen starters, and emerging sophomore Kelly Faris have managed to yield almost the same results as their predecessors. They go into the game tonight number one in the country. They are Big East regular season champions. But when you combine the integrating of new talent with the off the court distractions that occurred, it's been tougher than before. I talked to Faris about her teammates, both Moore and Lorin Dixon, the two departing seniors, and she chose to focus not about what they do on the court, but the off the court side of things.
No matter how bright the future is for a women's basketball player at UConn, it is very rare that you can get them to discuss their future after the NCAA tournament and entry into the WNBA. That doesn't stop others from talking about it though! The Minnesota Lynx hold the number one pick in this year's WNBA draft, and it almost certainly will be Maya Moore. She will join a team with a lot of talent, including Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, and Candice Wiggins. Not long after Stanford gave UConn Maya's first loss in three seasons, I spoke to Wiggins about her returning to health and the possibility of playing alongside Maya in Minnesota this year. She couldn't contain the excitement and enthusiasm she has for this possible combination! You can hear the respect for Maya that "Ice" has, comparing Moore's eventual arrival in Minnesota to Lebron James' arrival in South Beach.
So tonight, if you are fortunate enough to watch the ceremonies honoring the two UConn senior players, and then the Ceremony adding Maya Moore to the Ring of Honor, think about what you have had for the last four years. A phenomenal player, yes, but also a complete and delightful person. Someone that is a lot of fun to talk to, that is respectful even to the newest of blogger/reporters such as me. Someone that stayed an extra 10 minutes after practice a couple of weeks ago so I could have a private interview for WSTRRadio. To conclude this, I thought it best to use her own words. I spoke to Maya this past week, and she allowed herself that rare look into the future. She discussed senior night, the Ring of Honor, and for the first time that I've heard, she even talked about the WNBA. Enjoy listening...and enjoy watching one of the greatest women's college basketball players of all time while we still have her there.