The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, January 22, 2020
The Maya Moore effect — Interview with Brenda Frese and Maryland — Must-click women's basketball links
Subscribers, thank you for your support! You’ve opted to join us for five different women’s sports newsletters in your inbox every week. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. If you know someone who would love The IX as much as you do, forward this offer along!
The Maya Moore effect
The news came swiftly Wednesday afternoon, with an impact muted by the previous year’s decision: Maya Moore will not play in the 2020 WNBA season, nor for USA Basketball. And whether she’ll return at all remains unknown. She didn’t retire, but she did not commit to a return date, either.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way: Maya Moore owes nobody anything. She’s been a basketball player for virtually her whole life, brought untold thrills to the Minnesota Lynx fans after doing the same at Connecticut, and if she’s now found a higher calling than even leading Cheryl Reeve-coached teams to championships, so be it. As a basketball observer, she’s missed on the floor, and as a media professional, her perspective in the locker room is missed as well. But this world can stand a few more of us making it a better, fairer place.
That said, this is a massive loss for the women’s game. Maya Moore, through eight full seasons, was 13th in the history of the WNBA in win shares, with 53.53. Just to put that in perspective: it essentially ties her with Candace Parker, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, for career win shares — and Parker’s collected those over 12 seasons. Tamika Catchings leads the WNBA in career win shares by a wide margin, but had Moore merely had a reasonably long career with a normal decline phase, she would have challenged Catchings (who, let’s not forget, somehow managed to avoid a decline phase in almost every area of her game).
But just like Sandy Koufax in baseball, Moore would be a Hall of Famer herself if she never so much as touched a basketball again. Whether she’ll do that is a question that carries with it some internal, currently unanswerable questions. I remember encountering Maya at a Jordan Classic high school game a few years ago — an exhibition game, one that others around us were taking in casually.
Not Maya. She was intent on the action right until the final buzzer, and even as we spoke, she grabbed a basketball courtside at Barclays. She couldn’t turn basketball off. It was how she was wired.
Well, now she’s turned basketball off for two straight seasons. She’s always been a woman of more than just hoops, as so many players, coaches and executives in the WNBA are as well. But is it in Moore to turn the switch back on? I’d be willing to bet not even she knows.
As for the women’s game at large: don’t fall into a trap, thinking it will see its progress ended or even limited by the absence of Maya Moore. A luxury of the current gap between opportunity and the number of great women’s basketball players is that there are always others to step forward and avoid vacuums. Breanna Stewart defined 2018, after all, and without Breanna Stewart (or Moore or Diana Taurasi or Sue Bird) we still witnessed what many believe was the best WNBA Finals ever, between two multifaceted stars in Elena Delle Donne and Jonquel Jones.
The game, despite all the best efforts of naysayers and limited media coverage and even the injuries, is not just unbreakable, it is growing.
And yet: I wonder if I spent enough time appreciating Moore, just as baseball writers of the 1960s probably wondered if they’d fully enjoyed the work of Koufax for a relatively brief moment on the Dodger Stadium mound.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Mike Jensen’s right about Denise Dillon.
Tough times at U of M, with Destiny Pitts transferring.
Alexis Mansanarez caught up with Tamika Catchings on the new CBA.
Good Sean Hurd focus on how the new CBA is a win for women of color.
Don’t sleep on Minyon Moore’s future.
Michelle Smith also gets you ready for The Civil War.
Karen Weaver shares your NCAA nightmare story of the week.
Geno Auriemma wants to know why winning isn’t enough.
Brian Agler sighting in PJ Brown’s latest.
Also, Brown writes about Kelsey Plum, announcer.
Erica Ayala links David Stern to the WNBA’s formation.
I wrote about how the new CBA affects Layshia Clarendon specifically.
Love a good Stephanie Jones story.
Camille Buxeda and Ari Chambers explain the power of gaming.
Amber Dodd focuses on Blair Watson’s defense.
As free agency approaches, here’s Albert Lee on the Mystics and the cap.
And here’s Natalie Heavren on the same question, but with the Sun.
Latest bracketology from Russ Steinberg.
And Ben Dull on the Pac-12 is must-read as always.
Last but not least: LaChina Robinson alert! Around The Rim is back!
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Maryland’s Brenda Frese, Stephanie Jones, Kaila Charles, Diamond Miller
(I caught up with the quartet following Maryland-Nebraska, the same day as the NWSL Draft. You better believe I wasn’t going to miss the chance to drive another half-hour and see them live.)
BRENDA FRESE: You know, obviously really excited to be able to see us put together two solid games. I thought we had two great days of practice where communication and the energy was where we needed to be on the defensive end. I thought some long stretches of time to translate in the game tonight. Our defense obviously led to our offense where we were able to force, five turnovers to be able to get into to this easy place on the offensive end. We continue to be led by our vets, I think our seniors continue to set the tone for us, but just the play of both Diamond and Ashley have really kind of helped propel us to kind of take a step forward. So just continuing to need that consistency from them. Energy off the bench has been huge for us.
QUESTION: What does it say about the way that you guys were able to play for 40 minutes with the limited numbers and you know, pretty much keep everybody out of foul trouble and still get the results.
BRENDA FRESE: You know, I think, we’re getting more disciplined. You know, when you talk about the foul trouble, and adjusting, cause every game is called differently, areas where you get to play through and other areas where you don’t. And I think that the defensive effort they did on Kate, on the big Kate Cain, I thought was sensational. I mean that took a group effort. She’s really, really talented and so, she was my biggest concern going into this game and for us to shut her down and only get one shot with attempt was huge.
QUESTION: Kaila, question for you. You had another hyper-efficient offensive game and 23 points on 13 shots but the three point shot remains something that is not something that it seems that you look for. And I’m wondering how you sort of process mentally when to shoot the three if that’s something that you’d want to look for more just even over the final half of the season that you have here?
KAILA CHARLES: I mean of course I want to extend my game in all aspects especially you know moving forward. But I just read the defense, fire down the lane I just go to my strengths and it’s been working. So it’s just something, I work on, on the outside, if it presents itself I’ll take it.
QUESTION: And I guess Brenda, similar question to you. I, obviously it’s working, cause you’re, you’re putting up these numbers, but on a team where you know, so many people shoot the three as well and it seems like something that was a critical part of your attack. Is it something you’ve thought about emphasizing more with Kaila?
BRENDA FRESE: No. Why would I? I mean it was a working is her getting to the rim, her pull up, we agreed, three point shooters, like we have to play to our strengths as a team. And you know, it’s not saying that she hasn’t, she’s more than capable, but you know, as we’re playing to our strengths right now, great things are happening for us. So again, Crystal Langhorne never shot a three until her last two years in the pros. You know what I mean? I, I use her as an example every day and that kid was an all American but you know, stayed in the paint and not that Kaila is an in the paint player. You see how we slip and slide around on the offensive and she’s just incredible off the bounce, you can’t match her. So why would you want to settle for, for you know, set shots, out on the perimeter when you can get her off the bounce and going downhill. Nobody can guard her.
QUESTION: Stephanie, you’ve been able to find more offensive opportunities lately. What’s been working for you and how has that practice translating into your game?
STEPHANIE JONES: Yeah, just taking my time and reading what the defense gives me really. And then, I mean my teammates, they just like push me to shoot the ball more really. And yeah, just having that behind me, it just gives them confidence too.
QUESTION: Brenda, you’ve never shied away from giving big roles to Freshmen. But do you feel like you’ve seen Diamond responding to that and in a more significant way? And where do you see her game getting to?
BRENDA FRESE: I mean Diamond’s ceiling is huge, it’s untapped and she has no idea on where the ceiling is at, which is pretty special cause we know as coaches, but where I love right now where Diamond’s at is she’s confident, she’s a really aggressive, she didn’t have a turnover tonight. You know, she’s being aggressive on the offensive and she’s, if anything, trying to make plays for others, she’s just trying to make the right play, trying to play the right way. She defending hard. She’s not following, so it’s fun. You know, her minutes are up because you know, she’s just really playing the game the right way.