- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Maya Moore seems like she can do just about anything except anything wrong.
Now, I don't want to make any readers' eyes roll, or have them thinking I was kidnapped and reprogrammed to be a UConn Borg. Don't want this to sound like one of those paint-by-numbers, "Wow, isn't she super?" gush-fests that might appear in an alumni magazine or something. But
Every time I talk to Moore, a sophomore wing, she says the right things. On every subject.
Take the "extra time" element there is to being a UConn athlete: more fan interaction, more media obligations, more appearances. On top of classes, studying, lifting weights and practice.
"I'm not going to look at it as a negative," Moore said. "We get so many great things out of it. We get to travel all over the country and play on national television. We have so many great fans. Those things overshadow any of the hard things about it.
"It is time-consuming. But anything that is worthwhile is going to be. I'm not going to complain; it's fun."
Every game I've seen her play, she competes all-out, doesn't make a stink about officiating, acts respectfully toward her opponents and buoys her teammates. And that mind-set goes back to the bedrock of what makes a player great: how she approaches practice.
"It's become a habit for me to go hard in every drill," Moore said. "God gave me the ability, talent and strength to see how good I can be. It's up to me to use all that. I do think I've been conditioned to practice like that, but our team in general has those expectations of themselves."
Coach Geno Auriemma, famous for coming up with funny barbs about everybody -- and lots of them if you're a barb-magnet -- seems rather devoid of quips about Moore.
"I think the possibilities for a player like that are somewhat limitless," he said, "because she is a really good passer, a great shooter and she has tremendous pride. Her work ethic is phenomenal."
Admittedly, I don't see every UConn game, nor transcribe every public utterance of Moore and Auriemma. And since there are people who do, I know I might have missed a Moore mistake or a Geno gibe at some point.
Whenever "outsiders" write about UConn, we naturally accept we're probably at least a few yards behind the posse. After all, so many reporters, columnists, broadcasters, bloggers and message-board lifers are plugged into the program on a daily (or hourly) basis.
Everything is observed and hyper-analyzed. Almost to the point of a sentry assigned to Auriemma's house, peering into his dining-room window and sending out walkie-talkie reports to someone updating a blog.
"It looks like, as best I can determine, Geno just took a second helping of corn. I can't actually confirm he finished the first helping before adding to it with the second. I will try to update this as soon as possible with what Geno has for dessert."
(OK, this proves my "outsider-ness" truth is, I don't even know if Auriemma has a dining-room window. Or if he likes corn. Or dessert.)
The down aspect of being an outsider is you might not be able to tell those in UConn Nation anything they haven't already read/heard/written 15 times yesterday. The good aspect is that you can objectively reflect on why Maya Moore is marvelous.
Actually, fans from across the country recognized how good she was during her rookie season, in which she averaged 17.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Folks would e-mail me saying, "I tell my kids to watch how Maya Moore plays and conducts herself."
Columnists who didn't often watch women's basketball would see Moore and start raving the way they did over Diana Taurasi or Candace Parker.
One UConn student journalist recently got a look at Moore at the Huskies' tipoff to the season and was impressed enough to quite willingly (almost joyfully, in fact) fling aside some of his lifelong prejudices against women's basketball.
Moore chuckles when she hears that, but she's genuinely pleased. Some athletes grasp very early on that they have a responsibility to more than themselves. They stand out early in life, and so they get used to people watching them all the time: sizing them up, judging them and sometimes even emulating them.
"That is one of the goals of why I play: to make people realize how great women's basketball is," Moore said. "To have people fall in love with women's basketball the way it is. To have people enjoy the game with us."
Moore knows very well that there are lots of talented players in the college game. She knows that as good as she is, she still has all kinds of things to work on. And that skill alone won't win a national championship. Little mistakes here and there can sink the dreams of even the best players.
So who does she particularly keep an eagle-eye on? Who does she study and listen to? Auriemma, of course.
"He is a master of those ins and outs of the game; I'm trying to learn that from him," she said. "One thing I've been able to take from him a lot is knowing how the game works in subtle ways. What certain things will lead to, like how a bad screen you set could lead to a momentum change for the other team that changes the whole game."
Auriemma said the injuries last season to Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas meant Moore had to play on the perimeter more than he would have liked.
"So we didn't get to see her take advantage of some of the things she was doing earlier in the season," he said. "I'd like to go back this season to getting her closer to the basket. I don't think she attempted nearly enough free throws, so that's going to be a huge focus.
"Moving without the ball more, being a little bit better at attacking with the dribble and not allowing people to keep her from going where she wants to go."
So there are some things that Moore doesn't have down yet. But with each game this season, expect to see an already great player keep getting better.
Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
18dBonnie D. Ford