Maya Moore so much more than a scorer
The most gifted athletes make difficult things look mundane but at the same time, they often look spectacular doing mundane things. So observers might both underappreciate them and be in awe of them at the same time.
I think Maya Moore is this way -- but in her case, it's not just because of what she does on the court. It's the total package she is as a basketball player, a student and a person. The truth is, I don't think it's even possible to "overappreciate" Moore. She really is that amazing in all respects.
She became UConn's career scoring leader Sunday in another of the frequent romps she has experienced in her time with the Huskies.
In UConn's 86-32 victory over Sacred Heart, Moore had 17 points to put her total at 2,355, passing former teammate Tina Charles. That Moore became the record holder in early December of her senior season strongly indicates she will put the mark someplace virtually unattainable for future Huskies. But that would only be fitting, considering how high she has raised the bar on her own expectations.
Moore has never been someone who had greatness thrust upon her. She seems to have been aware of it and made peace with it from a pretty early age. So she was prepared for the things that come with it: the demands, the expectations, the responsibility.
Things don't sneak up on Moore, because she is always thinking ahead. There is a small handful of athletes I've covered in various sports who have said that by kindergarten or soon after, they had already plotted out how they expected their lives to go. Moore says she's not quite like that; but not far off.
She was living in Jefferson City, Mo., in 1998 when the Women's Final Four was two hours away in Kansas City. Moore didn't go to the games themselves; at 8, she wouldn't have sat patiently through them without wanting to get up and play, too.
But her mother did make the drive to take her to Hoop City, the interactive playground that accompanied the event. And a seed that would grow to spectacular heights was planted then.
"Just being able to be in that atmosphere and get my first taste of it just falling in love with the Final Four," Moore told me during her freshman year at UConn, before she played in the Final Four herself for the first time. "I've followed it ever since then."
Moore's own personal crystal ball is clearer than most people's. She sweats the details, while always having a view of the big picture.
It's the latter, really, that is the most impressive, and the most rare. Gifted athletes can begin to realize they are such while still quite young, because the evidence is usually obvious. What that means in the grand scheme of things is a much more difficult concept to grasp.
For Moore, having top-tier ability never meant that things should be easy. It meant that to reach her potential, she had to push to find out what "hard" was for her. She knew the UConn staff would guide her to that, even if so many of the games she has played in a Huskies uniform haven't looked especially difficult because opponents have been overmatched.
Yet that, too, has been part of Moore's greatness. She is always playing to the level of what she expects of herself, not whatever her competition might be. That takes a disciplined mindset that is like being able to convince yourself it's always the same temperature no matter where the thermostat is set.
Of course, Moore knows the difference between facing Stanford for the NCAA title and facing Sacred Heart in a game her team couldn't possibly lose. The key is, Moore's focused play wouldn't indicate that there is any difference.
She would go down as one of the best players in women's college basketball history for her scoring ability alone. Yet she is so much more than a scorer. Her rebounding, her passing, her defense and her leadership are all at a supreme level, too.
Moore has lost two games while wearing a UConn uniform, both in her freshman season. She is now on a run that has included two undefeated NCAA title seasons, and a world championship gold medal for which she was the rare amateur among pros.
During all this, she has been an outstanding scholar, too, and the consummate teammate, willingly sharing the spotlight her first three seasons.
Now she just as gracefully, and most deservedly, stands alone in it.