DALLAS - “Don’t hang up!'' a busy Moriah Jefferson shouts into the phone before putting me on a brief hold. "I’m finishing my workout. Give me two seconds. It ran over.''
She returned momentarily, slightly out of breath, but letting me know she was ready to talk. And for everyone else to know, she’s ready to return.
“I’m grinding every single day. I’m going to do well,” Jefferson said. “I am super-excited to get back on the court. I never thought I would get the chance to be back home in Dallas, getting to play with a great organization and in front of a great city with amazing fans.
“I can’t wait to get started and see what the year has in store for us.”
Jefferson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, was acquired by the Dallas Wings at the beginning of last season from the Las Vegas Aces in the Liz Cambage trade. She sat out 2019 due to injury.
While with the San Antonio Stars, she immediately became a starter while putting on spectacular performances, including scoring a game-winning put-back to beat the buzzer as part of her career-high 31 points to help San Antonio defeat the Indiana Fever 87-85 in an overtime game.
Jefferson was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team by the end of the season and was second in Rookie-of-the-Year voting.
Then she got injured.
Jefferson – who led UConn to a 151–5 record over her four-year collegiate career, which included four consecutive National Championships – missed 13 games during the 2017 season due to a knee injury which resulted in surgery.
After rehabilitating for nine months and missing the first 17 games of the 2018 season, she returned to practice in June 2018 but sat out the 2019 season to continue rehabbing.
Although not playing last year, Jefferson attended several Wings games and in February free agency, she re-signed with the Wings on a multi-year deal.
The home-schooled Dallas native – the two-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner (as the nation's top point guard) - and one of only four players in the award's history to claim the honor twice – is home.
“Moriah is one of the top young point guards in the League when healthy,” says Wings president Greg Bibb. “After staying home this winter and working on rehabbing and strengthening here knee, I believe she will return to her pre-injury level of play. I think Moriah can be a leader for our organization for a long time to come and I’m excited to have her wear a Wings jersey in front of her hometown fans.”
Says coach Brian Agler: “We are very excited to get Moriah signed and looking forward to her play. I believe that Moriah as the ability and has shown that she can be an elite point guard in the WNBA. She makes us better.”
Jefferson, who turned 26 in March, talks with me below about playing at home, returning to the court, her relationship with the late Gigi (who would have turned 14 this week) and Kobe Bryant and more.
Talk about your decision to sign with the Wings. How did you make that decision? What were the factors?
MJ: This was a no-brainer. Dallas is home. I haven’t been here consistently in five or six years and getting a chance to be traded here super excites me. Brian (Agler) sat down and talked with me and I felt like it was the right fit.
How do you feel? How has the rehab been going?
MJ: I feel great. I’ve been doing strength training for hamstrings and quads, lots of agility work and spending time in the weight room.
It’s been a long process for me. Over the past three years – a lot of people don’t know about my injury; I played hurt my entire second year. I had to finally sit down and do my rehab and make sure my knee is right. When you sit out six or seven months, there will be some rust to get out in the beginning.
It won’t feel the way it did before. You have to let the game come to you. But I’m good. I’m grinding every single day. I’m going to do well.
Did you ever feel like “This is it. My career is over''?
MJ: When you keep having a recurring injury, it crosses your mind; it crossed my mind - this could have an effect on my career. But I just decided to focus on the positive and just work hard on rehabbing.
Everyone can expect me to come out with energy, work hard, and play with passion every day.
What have you been doing during the global pandemic stay-at-home orders?
I’ve just been working out every day. I bought every at-home gym equipment you can think of. And anything you can do in the house I am doing. The biggest thing is staying mentally prepared. This has never really happened before and no one knows how to deal with it. But this won’t be forever, we have to remember there is a bigger goal and we all want to come out better.
I am also enjoying the off time, everyone needs time to relax. But you need to stay focused so when you come out you are ready to go. We won’t know how much time we’ll get before season starts; could be just a couple of day before we have to be back.
What do you think about the new CBA?
MJ: It’s exciting. It’s a long time coming. Our league is still young and we are taking a step in the right direction.
You knew the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi - whose birthday is May 1. Tell me about that.
MJ: Yeah, I’ve known (Kobe) for four or five years. I got the chance to meet him while at UCONN. I actually met Gigi first. She watched my highlights and reached out to me on Twitter then I met her at a UCONN game then met Kobe.
I would watch his highlights growing up and then years later he’s watching my highlights from UCONN and when I got into the league. Imagine that! Me watching him playing and her watching me and then reaching out to me. It was a surreal moment.
You attended his invitation-only training camp for WNBA players in early January at the Mamba Sports Academy then a couple of weeks later the helicopter crash happened that claimed his and Gigi’s life and six others. Tell us about this.
MJ: Yeah. (Camp) was great. Kobe put us through drills and workouts. We talked about a few weeks before the camp then at the camp. Then I talked and text with him two days before the crash. I was supposed to go out and train with him.
It’s really sad, I get choked up. He was my all-time favorite player. Words ... I can’t really put it into words.
How did you hear about the crash?
MJ: I was at brunch, sitting down to eat that morning. Then people started texting me. I was like ‘No, what are you talking about?’ I had to go outside. I couldn’t control myself. It didn’t make any sense. I had just talked to him two days earlier.
I thought someone would say it was fake news. That never happened.
What are your thoughts on the Wings’ draft and the upcoming season, whenever it begins?
MJ: “We’ve got a good young core. Lot of good talent (out of the draft). I can’t wait. We have a lot of potential and a lot of things we can do here.