WHEN CONNECTICUTforward Maya Moore saw the Thanksgiving turkey—or rather, the decorated outlineof freshman guard Caroline Doty's left hand—drawn on assistant coach SheaRalph's office whiteboard last month, she couldn't resist. Moore picked up amarker, outlined her own left hand, added colorful gobbler flourishes and wrotebeside both birds, whose turkey is best? ¬∂ If the results of the polling wereunreliable ("Maya got more votes, but she was standing right there, so thecount could be skewed," says Ralph), the contest itself, which wasn't acontest at all until Moore got involved, is instructive. "Maya wants to bethe best at everything, and I mean everything," says junior center TinaCharles. "Video games, grades, who's first in the mile—you name it. Shetakes every opportunity to show what she can do."
What the collegebasketball world saw Moore do last year was turn in arguably the mostspectacular freshman season in the history of women's hoops. Made a starterafter junior guard Kalana Greene tore her ACL in the eighth game, the 6-footMoore led the Huskies to a 36--2 record and their first Final Four appearancesince 2004, averaging a team-high 17.8 points and hitting 42.0% of herthree-pointers. She was second in rebounding (7.6 per game) and blocked shots(1.6) and third in assists (3.0). She became the first freshman, male orfemale, to be named Big East Player of the Year and was runner-up to Tennesseeforward Candace Parker in AP Player of the Year voting.
And Moore did allthat while maintaining a 3.85 grade point average. "I believe Maya will bethe torchbearer who carries the game to another level," says DePaul coachDoug Bruno, for whom Moore played on two USA Basketball squads. "She'staken the torch from Parker, who took it from Diana Taurasi."
Ask thecognoscenti what sets Moore apart, and there is surprising consensus. It's nother deadly shooting, her nose for rebounds, her on-court savvy, her absurdathleticism—she dunks for fun but has yet to attempt one in a game—or even hercompetitive drive, which Bruno compares with Michael Jordan's. It's herceaseless effort. "We talk about shooters being in the zone, but her workethic is in the zone," says TV analyst Debbie Antonelli. "I've neversaid that about another player except Tamika Catchings. [About] how many kidscan you say: They never take a play off?"
November 17, 2008
For UConn coachGeno Auriemma, however, Moore's distinguishing trait is a blazing confidencethat reminds him of Taurasi, the force behind the Huskies' last two titles, in2003 and '04. "Like Diana, Maya has this incredible self-belief: As long asI'm on the court, we can win. As long as there is time left on the clock, wecan win. If there's a play that has to be made, I'm going to make it," hesays. "She might make eight threes in a row or get seven offensive reboundsin a row, and the other players will just look at her [in awe]. Yet there isjust enough dorkiness in her that you can't put her on that pedestal. She'll doan impromptu cheer and everyone will look at her like she's a [goofball]. She'sa normal 19-year-old kid, which is a good thing. Otherwise you'd start to thinkshe's a 29-year-old who snuck into college."
IT'S NOT justMoore's game that suggests she's well beyond her teens. It's her distaste for"going crazy" in college, her refusal to take anything for granted, herattention to detail. In the preseason Ralph assigned each guard a certainnumber of shots to take each week. At the end of the first week she received atext from Moore breaking down her shots taken and percentages made from sevenfeet, 15 feet, the three-point line and off the dribble. "It said, My goal,without defense, is this percentage, and for threes it's this percentage,"says Ralph. "I only asked her to take shots. But that's the kind of kid sheis; she wants to see improvement."
After her senioryear at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Ga., Moore asked Connecticut assistantJamelle Elliott if she could audition for the 2008 Olympic team. "If therewas an opportunity, she wanted to take advantage," says Elliott. "Thiskid is always thinking about what's next."
Moore's sense ofpurpose was evident early. When she was eight, she set aside the other sportsshe was playing to focus on basketball. That same year the WNBA was launched."That's where I got my passion for the game, watching the WNBA on TV,"says Moore. "Cynthia Cooper, Raise the Roof, We Got Next, I was into all ofit."
At 10 sheestablished Maya's Mobile Car Wash to earn money for the drum set that shestill plays in her mom's basement. At 12 Maya was born again. She credits herdeep Christian faith for that quality others call confidence and she callsinner peace. "Everything you see me involved in flows from my faith,"she says.
Moore's father isMike Dabney, a star guard on Rutgers' 1976 Final Four team, but he wasn't apart of her life growing up, and she prefers not to discuss the connection thatshe only began to develop with him recently. "We have a growingrelationship right now, so it's good," she says. Kathryn raised Maya, heronly child, as a single mom, moving from Jefferson City, Mo., to Charlotte whenMaya was 11 to take a job promotion at a phone company and "get betterbasketball opportunities for Maya," she says. When the company downsized,Kathryn found work at a bank and transferred a year later to suburban Atlanta."My mom showed me how important it is to surround yourself withopportunities and make the most of them," Maya says.
When Maya was inmiddle school, Kathryn had her researching colleges and writing résumés. "Itold her if you're going to send a letter to a coach, they will want to seemore than Oh, she's sweet; they want information," says Kathryn, who nowsells handbags out of the home near UConn's campus that she moved into lastyear. Moore's résumé included her stats—which Kathryn, a former collegevolleyball player, dutifully kept every game—her GPA and her summer schedule,and she sent it out to a few coaches, including Auriemma, who still keeps it ina desk drawer in his office.
Three years beforeshe finished her career at Collins Hill High, with three state titles,back-to-back Naismith National Player of the Year awards and a 125--3 record,Moore had narrowed her choices to UConn, Tennessee, Duke and Georgia. She chosethe Huskies after her junior season in part because she knew her weaknesseswould be exposed every day under Auriemma's watch. "I came to the rightplace for that," she says with a chuckle, adding that she has agreed with99% of the things Auriemma has yelled at her about. "All your mistakes areon tape. The coaches will say, 'And here you turned the ball over. Let's watchit again!'"
NOT ALL the tapefrom that historic freshman season is game footage. Moore, who for all herpoise and maturity harbors a well of endearing wide-eyed enthusiasm, brought avideo camera on road trips. "I heard we had a charter to almost all ouraway games, and I was like, I've never been on a chartered flight! I'm going torecord it!" she says.
Jaded she's not.At the McDonald's All-American game, in which she played as a junior andsenior, Moore was the first player to leap off the bench and hand other playerswater. Her Connecticut teammates have found her refreshing too. "Maya putseverybody at ease," says Dixon. "If you're upset, Maya will make youlaugh it off."
A self-taughtdrummer, Moore pounded out rhythms on lockers and walls to get her Collins Hilland Georgia Metros AAU teammates chanting before games. At UConn she hums andbeats on the walls of the cold tub she sits in after practices. "She'salways making up cheers and songs," says teammate Kaili McLaren. "Andthe crazy thing is, when she sings, it actually sounds good."
Greene predictsthat Moore will sing the national anthem on senior night a few years hence, butthat's a long way off, and Moore has a lot of work to do in the meantime. Thereare national titles to chase, good grades to keep up—she's interested in eitherbroadcast journalism or sports marketing—and teammates to serve. (Auriemma hasnamed her a captain, making her just the second sophomore so honored, aftersenior guard Renee Montgomery, in his tenure at Connecticut.) And there is thecontinuing refinement of her game. "I want to be one of those players whoyou watch on film and say, 'Where's the weakness?'" says Moore. "I wantto be one of those players like Jason Kidd, who is always in tune with the gameand sees several plays ahead. I want people to know something good is going tohappen when the ball is in my hand."
Last year, whenMoore played primarily on the perimeter, people already had that expectation.This year she'll be asked to spend more time in the paint. Moore has beenworking hard on her post moves. "Now that she has another task in front ofher, it's not a question of whether she'll be great at it," says Elliott,"it's only a question of when."
"Maya has this incredible self-belief: If there's aplay that has to be made, I'm going to make it," says Auriemma.