In one sense, Moriah Jefferson is a curious candidate to embody why the University of Connecticut women's basketball team continues to make and accumulate history at a pace unlike almost anything else in sports.
As a recruit, readying to speak in person with Geno Auriemma for the first time, Jefferson listened as friends asked if she was nervous about the encounter. It struck her as an odd question. She was just going to be talking to someone about basketball, a sport she had played her whole waking life, minus perhaps two weeks many years earlier when she quit in protest after her dad told her she couldn't play in leagues against boys any longer.
She was comfortable talking basketball. She didn't know enough about Connecticut to be nervous talking to Auriemma, who has reigned over a basketball dynasty for more years than Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon ruled in total as emperors.
"To be honest, I didn't know anything about UConn," Jefferson said. "I knew nothing about the school, I didn't know anything about the history. I had seen one or two games, but I really only watched the NBA. I didn't really watch college basketball at all."
She still hasn't seen many competitive college games, at least not in person. Jefferson is two wins away from completing the same perfectly unprecedented college career as classmate Breanna Stewart: four years, four championships (the same is true for Morgan Tuck, although injury kept her out for all but a handful of games during the second of those four title runs).
Twice a first-team All-American, Jefferson isn't under any radar. She isn't obscured by Stewart. Yet Stewart's deserved legacy inevitably makes Jefferson the "and" in the pairing, just as Lou Gehrig's name comes after the "and" that follows Babe Ruth's name in most any context. It is nonetheless impossible to understand why the current team dominates to the extent it does, why it is on the verge of doing something that even the Connecticut teams that came before could not, without appreciating a point guard who sets the tempo on both ends of the court.
"I know Breanna Stewart is fantastic," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "I mean, I've seen it in person her freshman year in the final. But Moriah Jefferson is just as important to that ball club as Breanna Stewart is. I just love watching them play on TV because I watch Moriah, the kid is everywhere. She'll run that thing right down your throat for a layup. She'll dish it out to the shooters, and then as soon as they score, she's picking the ball back up [defensively]. She's remarkable."
Which begins to explain why she is the embodiment of a program's success at least as much as Stewart, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi or anyone else. Jefferson didn't grow up seeking to be a part of Connecticut's history, but her story is why it exists. Connecticut doesn't win the way it does because it gets the best talent. It wins the way it does because the players who go there get so much better.
The games look easy because that process often isn't.
Few stepped further out of their comfort zone than Jefferson. A scorer asked to play point guard. A Texan shivering through Connecticut winters. A homeschooled student on a campus of tens of thousands. A flash of speed told to slow down.
"She's got to be the fastest person in college basketball ... Then you guard her -- you might as well put Icy Hot on your feet." UW guard Kelsey Plum, who was Jefferson's USA Basketball teammate
There isn't a geographic blueprint for dynasty. There hasn't been one since the locally sourced Huskies won their first national title in 1995 and soon added a recruiting class that included North Carolina's Shea Ralph, now an assistant coach who's instrumental in recruiting and mentoring Jefferson out of Texas.
There isn't a physical blueprint. Connecticut has size, specifically Stewart's blend of inches and skills, but it isn't the biggest team in the country.
The commonality, one Auriemma contends is in increasingly short supply as entitlement grows, is players who process a message that is a disconnect for others. Everything that worked for them to that point, everything that landed them on Connecticut's radar in the first place?
That won't be good enough. Their way, a way that never failed them or failed to earn praise, won't be good enough.
Jefferson might not have known Carla Berube from Asjha Jones, but she understood that message.
"She was very confident in herself," Auriemma recalled of that first extended conversation. "I don't want to say shy or introverted -- or extroverted; she just came across as someone confident and sure of herself and sure of what she wanted. ...
"She wasn't bragging about anything. She wasn't acting like she had it all figured out. At the same time, she wasn't acting scared."
So she chose a place that would look at her greatest strength on a basketball court and tell her why it wasn't good enough.
Jefferson does so many things well. She is an efficient 3-point shooter who rarely forces a shot. She averages fewer than two turnovers per game and owns both the program's all-time assists record and three of its seven most prolific seasons in assists. Still, her defining trait is and always will be her speed. She appears to play at a speed those around her reach only when we fast forward through parts of recorded games.
"I know Breanna Stewart is fantastic ... But Moriah Jefferson is just as important to that ball club as Breanna Stewart is." Louisville coach Jeff Walz
University of Washington All-American Kelsey Plum hopes to play in the national championship game that could also include Connecticut. Should she face Jefferson, she won't need a scouting report. The two played together with USA Basketball each of the past two summers.
"She's got to be the fastest person in college basketball," Plum said about Jefferson. "Trying to chase her around screens, it's not a ton of fun. She's phenomenal. ... When you watch her play, and then you guard her -- you might as well put Icy Hot on your feet. I would get to practice like 20 minutes earlier ... to stretch because when the ball is rolled out [she's going all out].
"You've definitely got to tie your laces a little tighter."
That is Jefferson now. But just as a race car's ideal speed isn't necessarily what the engine will allow without plowing into a wall, there is such a thing as too fast on the basketball court.
"Sometimes I was so fast that I leave my teammates behind me and then I'm going too fast for myself," Jefferson said. "So I had to learn how to slow down and make sure the tempo of the game is quick but not too fast."
One of former UCLA coach John Wooden's best known basketball adages was "Be quick, but don't hurry." Auriemma put his own familiarly sarcastic spin on that.
"With Mo, when she was a freshman," Auriemma said, "It was 'Geez, I wish she just hurried. Because all the other times, she's out of control.'
"So if we could get her to just hurry, we're making progress here. She was so aggressive and so fast and so quick and so everything, but channeling that obviously has been a big key to her success. That takes time."
Besides expressing some disappointment about her shooting, the product of wavering confidence, Jefferson said she enjoyed a freshman season in which she averaged 17 minutes. A national championship tends to lend everything a rosy hue in hindsight. But it wasn't an easy adjustment. She admitted that much.
"I think both Mo and the coaching staff learned how to be patient," Auriemma said of a trait rarely ascribed to him.
There were easier choices. There were places closer to home in Texas, places closer to her comfort zone. There were programs that would have put the ball in her hands right away and turned loose her speed -- to great effect, too. But one message stopped her in her tracks -- which isn't easy to do.
"You're either going to come here, be good and win," Jefferson recalled Auriemma telling her. "Or you're going to go somewhere else, be good and we're going to beat you."
In one sense, it was a bluff. But the only ones who can call it are the ones who want to believe it most of all.