- Maya Moore, who is widely regarded as one of the best players in basketball, talks to The Crossover about her journey and the coaches who helped her reach the top of her game.
Maya Moore is typically considered one to be one of the best players in women's basketball. So how did she get to the top of her profession? A great deal of skill combined with learning under a pair of coaches whose combined experience and championship pedigree would make any basketball purist blush.
With that in mind, The Crossover talked to Moore about her favorite coaching stories, what her coaches have meant to her and much more on behalf of U.S. Cellular and the Most Valuable Coach program, which is hosting a contest aimed at finding the best coaches in the country.
Kellen Becoats: Who was your first basketball coach and how did they help grow your love for the game?
Maya Moore: I’ve had several coaches over my basketball journey. I think the first team I ever played for was a YMCA team, probably around when I was seven years old. And really I have vague memories of it. I think, at that age, you’re just trying to make sure the ball stays in bounds. So I don’t know if there were any memories of that.
But I had an AAU coach when I was eight named Steve and that was kinda where I remember being taught the fundamentals and basic plays. And it was really just about having fun and it wasn’t extremely competitive, but we were working, we were playing and it was fun to be able to go to basketball practice. There was a lightness to it, as a kid, which is why I’m really excited about partnering with U.S. Cellular and honoring great coaches, like the ones who gave me opportunities. … You can vote for the top 50 coaches at themostvaluablecoach.com and get a chance to vote for coaches like the coaches I had. They got it right and made the game fun. They made us really enjoy the game as kids.
KB: You played for one of the greatest coaches of all-time in Geno Auriemma. What was it like learning from him and playing for him?
MM: Yeah, there’s no question he was one of the great coaches, his resume speaks for itself. His players speak up, his coaching staff speaks of his presence and the relationships he has with his players—even after we graduate—speaks to the heart and soul of what he was a coach and the program is all about. It’s about developing and bringing out the good—on the court and off the court—in the players themselves.
When I think of the most valuable coach, I definitely think of a coach like Geno Auriemma, and the things I learned from him that stick out in my mind are his passion for the game, competing at all the little things and doing it at a high level. He’d always take time at some point during practice to read us some type of life lesson there or to help us see the bigger picture of why we were doing what we were doing. He was an excellent vision caster. He would motivate us and show us that we could be better. He would inspire us to and tell us that it was our team and it was our experience. As a young person growing up and learning that lesson to focus not on the outcome but working toward, it was invaluable. It will help me when I start the coaching process for these top coaches, I’ll be a part of them, judging the final three.
KB: Are there any Geno stories that you’d be willing to share?
MM: That I’m willing to share? (laughs). I wish I could remember more Geno stories, it’s hard to sort them out. OK, well I remember one year—I can’t remember which year but it was probably my sophomore year—I had a fastbreak during the game where I was all by myself and I thought I was gonna dunk. And I’m a 6-foot small forward, so it’s quite a feat for me to get up there. But I had bounce back in my day and I remember going during the fastbreak and thinking in my mind, “OK, I’m gonna try and dunk it.”
But the classic “should I dunk it, should I not dunk it” got stuck in my head and when you’re dunking you get to that point in the air where you’re like, “Can I make it? Should I just try a finger roll or should I turn it over and just try and dunk it?”
I think I tried it and missed. And I got subbed out of the game shortly after that and I remember he came over to my side of the bench and I knew he was going to say something. And he just told me, “If you’re going to dunk it, make it.” He didn’t tell me not to try it again, he just told me, "If you’re gonna dunk it, dunk it." So just another classic example of you’re afraid you’re going to get scolded by your coach but he basically said, "I have confidence in you, just go out there do it." But he also wanted me to be accountable at the same time, so that was a cool example of coaching.
KB: You also have a fantastic coach now in Cheryl Reeve. What’s her coaching style like?
MM: Her coaching style is intense. She has high standards for us and all the details—she's a stickler for details. She’s about playing passionately and playing together and connected. She’s always the kind of coach who asks you to be a good teammate and that’s something I really appreciate about her, because to be a great team you have to be great teammates.
She coaches you as a teammate and she coaches you as a player. She’s very forward and you always feel like she’s right there and she’s battling with you and I appreciate that so much as a player. You like to have fun with her too because she keeps it light. She’s always one to joke and she’s somebody that knows how to bring the fun as well as the intensity, so I appreciate that about her.
KB: She started coaching the Lynx shortly before you were drafted, so what’s it like to kind of grow with her all these years and through the championships?
MM: Yeah, she has a remarkable ability to cast visions for us as players and to see her, year after year, figure out how to motivate us and keep us focused. And to keep the level up and the focus that she’s brought us is remarkable. She’s had so much experience being a coach, whether she was an assistant or winning a championship with the Shock—she was an assistant when the Charlotte Sting went to the Finals—so she has a lot of experience. I feel like I’ve been able to be apart of her journey and her ride.
KB: Of the moments you've shared with your coach, which is your favorite?
MM: Some of my favorite moments make me think back to my K-12 experience. When I was in high school, we won our state championship my sophomore year. We worked so hard that year because we had lost in the state championship the year before. I just remember giving my coach the biggest hug after we won and the horn went off and the newspaper the next day captured a big picture of her just smiling as she was hugging one of us as players and I just love that. She was so happy and I just know she was happy for us.
So I just think about the different coaches that are in this competition and how many of those moments that these coaches have had where they’re just happy for their kids and their players, not happy because they get to puff their chests but they’re happy because the athletes are happy themselves. The Most Valuable Coaches program is near and dear to my heart because when I speak about moments I think of the pride in her eyes for me and her players.