Time has come for Lynx's Moore to take the lead
MAY 24, 2013 11:42a ET
Her name's become synonymous with women's basketball prominence, her face an image of the focus and grit that can vault a 23-year-old to unimaginable hoops heights. The bulk of WNBA players will go their entire college and professional lives without attaining the accolades Moore has after just two years in the league.
What more could be expected of a woman with a league title to her credit, an Olympic gold medal hanging in her home, and two national championship rings on her fingers?
Oh, there's more, Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve says.
"We're asking for a lot from Maya," Reeve said. "Her evolution is really important, and people think she's great now — and she certainly has been — but I told her she's got at least four steps to go as a professional athlete, and we need two of them this year."
In the eyes of her coach, Moore's third year in the fold requires her to shoulder the load, not just grab a handle. Deferring to leading scorer and closer Seimone Augustus is no longer an option. Sitting back and waiting for another teammate to make a game-turning play is prohibited.
In many ways, this is Moore's team.
"You're gonna see her in more important roles offensively where we're able to run plays for her to score the ball in key moments, whereas oftentimes she was the second option," said Reeve, whose group opens the season June 1 at home against the Connecticut Sun. "I think Maya is now in a role that she's matured, she's evolved her game. She's got a better handle."
It's what the Lynx had in mind when they drafted Moore, a two-time NCAA champ and the leading scorer in University of Connecticut history. Her first two seasons, she leaned on Augustus and guard Lindsay Whalen to open up opportunities. In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the United State's best players surrounded her, including those two.
Augustus and Whalen are still around and in the prime of their careers. But for Minnesota to avenge its defeat in last season's WNBA Finals, Moore is expected to embrace her role as the Lynx's go-to gal. A decisive push to the league's summit once again.
It may be externally imposed by Reeve, but it's rooted within, Moore said.
"If someone's expectations of me are higher than mine, I have a problem with that," the small forward said. "I'm gonna be called to be an even better decision maker, which is the hard part because that's moment-by-moment. You can't really necessarily have an individual workout and say 'I got better at being a decision maker.'"
It's not that there's been anything lacking from Moore's performance. It's just on her to do that much more.
She grew reacquainted with taking charge of a team this past summer, ransacking the Women's Chinese Basketball Association and leading her Shanxi Xing Rui Flame team to — what else? — a league championship. By far the best player on the court every time out, Moore averaged 38.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.6 steals per game. She scored 60 points in one game and 50 or more in three others.
Moreover, she developed as a leader in spite of a vast language barrier. And while the competition she faced was nowhere near what the WNBA has to offer, producing such numbers provided her newfound evidence she's capable of controlling a game's entire course of play.
"Coming back from China, it was a really cool experience just to be able to embrace that culture and reach out to my team," Moore said.
Being a central force isn't unfamiliar for the 2011 WNBA rookie of the year and three-time Wade Trophy (given annually to the country's best women's college basketball player) winner. To this day, UConn coach Geno Auriemma uses her college performance as a standard he expects from his current stars.
"Nothing that Maya does surprises me," the legendary head man said after Moore led the Huskies to an NCAA-record 89th consecutive victory in 2010. "There's something special about that kid. She has an ability to rise to the occasion."
If she's to make similar work of the WNBA as she has other levels of play, Moore will need to tap into that ability like never before.
It starts with finishing. Moore has a chance to be that player that, with an outcome up in the air, attacks so viciously that not even opposing teams' full knowledge of her whereabouts can stop her. She's mentioned more consistent defense, too, to the point where she's matched up with another team's best wing and taking her out of her game.
It means added pressure, few breaks, and intense scrutiny when things go wrong.
But they haven't very often since Moore first picked up a basketball, and that's why the expectations can spike in the first place.
"The pressure is always high," said Moore, who scored 16.4 points per game last year and led the Lynx with 50 steals. "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. Obviously, when the games start, the competitive juices get going."
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