BRISTOL -- The photograph was the moment that stood out for her. The girls she had grown up with playing AAU basketball. The young women she had admired through four years in college. The opponents she had battled hardest right through the Final Four heartache of last week.
They all stopped and smiled Monday. Yes, Maya Moore insisted, the snapshot meant so much.
"Seeing everybody all dressed up, my sisters finally together here as a group ready to go to the WNBA, that was a really special moment," Moore said Monday after she was chosen by the Minnesota Lynx with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft.
Point guard Courtney Vandersloot, the magician from Gonzaga, was there. So were Danielle Adams and Sydney Colson from national champion Texas A&M. So, too, were a bunch of others. In many ways, this was their graduation day. Sure, Moore has won consecutive Academic All-American of the Year honors and she will graduate from UConn with a 3.7 GPA. Few better embodied the Athenian code of a sound mind in a sound body. Yet this also was the day when Moore, 21, and the others stepped through the portal to the adult world.
As we have learned in the men's game, and we learn again with Kemba Walker's announcement today, players will, at any point, leave early for the NBA. The women's game is different. "Thank goodness," Geno Auriemma said. "[Maya] would be gone after her freshman year."
Except for basketball camp counselor, Maya said, this would be the first job of her life. It is a job where she will be expected one day to be the best in her profession. Not second best - the best. Yet for now they were all satisfied to be dressed to the nines for the photo. Well, all except center Liz Cambage, a center from the Aussie pro league. She was dressed for the 1945 Oscars.
Cambage, 6 feet 8, is big, bold and beautiful, a world-class center in the making. She was working it with plumage. An emu was missing some feathers or else mama dingo was up all night sewing. At 19, Cambage, taken second by Tulsa, was refreshingly honest, saying there was no way she could have handled full-time studies and basketball.
"Big person, big personality," Moore said of Cambage. "She wants to dominate. It's going to be scary seeing how good she is going to get."
Yet if Cambage stole the show in person, the Maya Draft Show had long since been choreographed by ESPN. There was a bizarre feel to the day. There was a Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show" feel to it all. Unlike the NHL, the NBA or NFL, the traditional media was sequestered in an area outside the ESPN cafeteria, while the WNBA draft was held in a studio. The way the players, even Auriemma, were squeezed in for traditional interviews - while it was made abundantly clear they had to get to espnW or an espn.com chat or espn.something - well, it was hard to know exactly where the WNBA stopped and ESPN started.
Moore said this was the second time she had been to ESPN. That would mean the first time was the public tour that UConn set up during her recruitment, the one that drew Pat Summitt's ire and a secondary violation. There would be no NCAA violations on this day, just All Maya All The Time. With a dress she had fitted in LA during her trip to pick up the Wooden Award, she started early in the morning on "SportsCenter" and "First Take" and, with a camera crew following her every move, she barnstormed the "worldwide leader."
In joining Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles as UConn players picked No. 1 in the WNBA draft, it also was a day she said she has been dreaming about ever since the WNBA started and she first picked up an official WNBA basketball. She would fondly recall a "Hoop City" clinic in Kansas City in 1998. She saw WNBA players that day. She touched them.
"I saw how real it could be," Moore said.
Reality also was that everybody knew she'd go first Monday. She admitted to being nervous for, oh, 10 seconds. That's it. It was probably best this way. Maya is a planner.
"Maya knew what she wanted at 18," Auriemma said. "And now at 22 she's getting it."
All the predictable questions were asked. Yes, she hopes to sell tickets and generate excitement in Minnesota. No, she couldn't remember if she had ever been to Minneapolis, but she did know there's "great weather in the summer." Having lost only four games in four years, no, she doesn't know how she'll handle the losses, but Auriemma's practices have taught her to overcome seemingly impossible situations. Asked whether she would guarantee a playoff berth for the Lynx, Moore did one better. She said the goal is a championship. Seimone Augustus and her? "Pick your poison," she said. Amber Harris of Xavier picked No. 4 by the Lynx? "A guard in a post body," she said.
And, yes, Moore was thrilled to have Caroline Doty, Tiffany Hayes and Kelly Faris along for the day to share in the moment.
"It was sad to see her go out without another ring," said Hayes, who vowed the Huskies would work 10 times harder after the Final Four loss to Notre Dame. "Maya deserved it most. At the same time, we're so happy for her today."
"The way the season ended definitely was tough," Moore said, "but I was forced to snap out of it."
The sport has evolved too much for Moore to simply step in out of college and dominate. She's not the best player in the world yet. Will she be one day? Chances are excellent that she will. Sports also have matured to the point where we no longer look at the Next Great One and expect the world to stop and the WNBA to suddenly draw 17,000 every game. Although few have ever been better equipped as an athlete, as a spokesperson, as a person, to push the game to another level, only the naive don't know the growth is incremental now, not exponential.
"Cheryl Miller to Sheryl Swoopes to Diana Taurasi to Candace Parker, there always has been points where everybody says, 'This is IT,' Auriemma said. "Invariably, IT doesn't last long. Someone else comes along. The game has evolved so quickly that it used to be every 10-15 years. Now you turn around every few years and there's another great one.
"Everybody that guards Maya will be as big, as quick and as athletic as she is now. Everybody she guards will be Angel McCoughtry and Tamika Catchings. The learning that will take place the next couple of years will be huge. But because she works so hard and her intensity level is high, she'll learn faster than others do. Let me tell you, Maya is one of a kind."
And that's why, as they posed for the photograph, the camera's eye would not leave Maya Moore.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun