Maya Moore does one thing: win.
At Connecticut, her teams won 150 games and lost only four times. She helped lead her school to a pair of national championships, two additional Final Fours and an 90-game victory streak -- the longest in men's or women's college basketball. Last April, she was selected by the Minnesota Lynx with the top overall pick in the 2011 WNBA draft.
Prior to Moore's arrival, the Lynx were 13-21, tied for the second worst record in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks. This past season, they finished with a league best 27-7 record and won their first WNBA Championship. Moore finished third on the team in scoring with 13.2 points a game, and was named the league's Rookie of the Year. In January, Moore, the first female basketball player to sign with Nike's Jordan Brand, will travel to Valencia, Spain, to play for Ros Casares, one of the best teams in Europe.
Recently, she stopped by SI.com's New York offices for a brief chat:
SI.com: How would you evaluate your rookie season in the WNBA?
Moore: I think I did pretty well. Obviously, there is always more I wish I could do and do better at certain times, and there are things I want to add to my game. But I think it's all part of the natural growth of a player and not being satisfied where you are in your first year.
As far as our team, it was just phenomenal. We just had an unbelievable year, how we worked together and the chemistry we had. I was glad I was able to contribute. But I must say, I was proud of myself for playing through mistakes and not getting so down on myself or frustrated when I would make mistakes or struggle at times, and then to bounce back and to continue to play hard and make a contribution.
SI.com: Why did the Lynx jell this season?
Moore: It was a combination of factors. The coaching staff, first of all, coming in and setting the bar high, and being on the same page, and communicating well with us. And the veterans took a lead roll: Taj McWilliams-Franklin coming in just being the leader she is. Rebekkah Brunson leading by example. Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus led, and we had leaders off the bench like Alexis Hornbuckle, who ran our second team and brought championship experience from Detroit. We had people who accepted their roles, and we had unselfish players. We didn't care who got the glory. We shared it. And you can really tell we respected each other. Coach [Cheryl] Reeve would honestly tell us how she admired how well we treated each other and how great teammates we were to each other.
SI.com: What was the biggest difference between the college and pro game?
Moore: Mistakes get exposed right away. That's a big difference. Obviously in college you will have some teams that expose you but not as frequently as the WNBA. Somebody is going get you. And me moving to playing predominantly on the wing was another adjustment. It was not a completely new position, but just to play it for 90 percent of the season was a challenge, especially defensively, and trying to stay in front and guard some of the best perimeter players in the world. But I feel like I got better every game.
SI.com: Did you have a Welcome to the WNBA moment?
Moore: Probably against L.A., the second or third time we played them. They have so many vets with so many moves and so many tricks, and they try to tangle you up and get you in foul trouble. The pros are a different game. You have to play through certain things and you realize it is not an equal playing field when you have veterans and rookies on the court. You have to work around it.
SI.com: Which WNBA player was better than you expected?
Moore: Tamika Catchings. She is one of those players who is an animal, as far as her physicality, her strength and her competitiveness. I knew [she had that], but it is another thing to try to stop it and go against it. It was another level going against her.
SI.com: Why did you decide to play in Spain?
Moore: It just had the best all-around fit for me -- the length of time I wanted and obviously it was a good salary, good location and a good team. You want to go somewhere you can get better, and win and play with good teammates. I wanted to go to a team that was competitive and Spain is a preferred location. I'll be there January to April. This will be very new for me, but I felt like it was a good fit.
SI.com: Notre Dame was picked by the Big East coaches to win the conference and there are those who think this will be a down year for UConn compared to previous years. Are people underselling your alma mater?
Moore: I'm going to use that as motivation and I am not playing there anymore. Anything you can use for motivation you do, and I definitely think [UConn] will use that. It's kind of having the tables turned as far as people's expectations. We are used to having the target on our back and now we have to go out and show people why we should have the target on our back.
SI.com: Most of the doubt is because Maya Moore is not there, you know?
Moore: Yeah, well I know my teammates. I have the advantage of seeing the potential and what I know they can do. I don't think you can calculate how much our freshman class got out of last year, having been forced to play so much and step up. I really think it will show this year. I have all the confidence in the world in my former teammates, coach [Geno] Auriemma and the coaching staff. The games should be good and I am excited to see them play with a chip on their shoulder. It's going to be interesting to see them grow.