The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, February 5, 2019
Maya Moore aftermath—Shenise Johnson interview—must-click women's basketball links
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I remember sitting with Maya Moore in the cramped Westchester County Center visiting locker room last summer after a Lynx-Liberty game. I’d asked her a question that touched on the issue of race, and she gave a long sigh and replied, “How much time have you got?”
She’s got a lot more time to ponder such questions, and work to find solutions for them, after announcing Tuesday that she’ll be missing the 2019 season. It’s worth reading what she had to say, and it sure isn’t anyone’s business to question her motives or her right to do as she pleases. Moore is 29, and she’s poured every ounce of herself into a basketball life that, should it end here, is an easy Hall of Fame resume, somehow all accomplished before she turned 30. At least for now, she wants something else. She’s Maya Moore. She’ll find it.
But let’s be careful not to doomsay from this moment, either. There’s a Minnesota Lynx team that has already added Karima Christmas-Kelly and, should Atlanta fail to match the offer, Damiris Dantas to a returning Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus, Danielle Robinson and a sixth overall pick in a deep 2019 draft. Cheryl Reeve has months to plan for this now. Moore will be missed — but writing off the Lynx in 2019 should be done at one’s peril.
As for the WNBA, I’ve heard some assorted talk about the negative impact on the ability to market the league without Maya Moore. But those I’ve spoken to who actually have a stake in such marketing don’t seem to see it that way. Let’s not forget that while Moore played in 2018, she did not have much of an imprint of a playoffs that scored significant increases in ratings, following a season in which Moore’s Lynx finished just 18-16.
There’s a different conversation to be had about whether the W centered its marketing enough around its true Michael Jordan figure of the decade. But the fact remains: it didn’t, really, and the league’s biggest stars from the WNBA Finals, Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne, both return. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are still playing at an elite level. Brittney Griner and Tina Charles are set to anchor franchises, as is the endlessly meme-able Liz Cambage (somewhere). The WNBA does not lack star power.
The thing to miss with Maya Moore away is the basketball. Something that happens to me when I watch a truly transcendent player — indeed, the way I separate the great from the merely very good — is I hear music when I see that player in action. Maybe it means this work is a calling for me, maybe it means I have a psychological disorder, who’s to say?
But I hear Chopin nocturnes in my head whenever I watch Maya Moore take the floor. And I honor her desire to go fix a broken world, for as long as she sees fit to do so. But I think I speak for basketball fans the world over when I say, also: I’m going to miss the music.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Jenn Hatfield broke down what Alexis Morris meant to Baylor, and will mean when she gets to Rutgers.
Michelle Smith explains why Utah is having such a good season. (FYI, friends, WNBA talent evaluators have noticed Megan Huff.)
I’ve been obsessed with Paige Bueckers’ game since I got a heads-up about it from a friend at USA Basketball, and Sloane Martin kills it here on her rise.
Quincy Pondexter says Becky Hammon has made the Spurs better.
Oh, more Michelle Smith, this time on Kristine Anigwe? Don’t mind if we do!
David Kiefer went long on Alanna Smith, but it doesn’t feel long.
Sherri Coale isn’t going to compromise at Oklahoma. (Madi Williams’ development means she doesn’t have to, either.)
I explained why the Damiris Dantas offer sheet was such a coup for Minnesota.
Here’s a Megan Walker/Crystal Dangerfield sneakers story from Kelli Stacy.
There’s a fantastic Philly rivalry brewing in Division II, Mike Jensen has the terrific background.
Ava Wallace on Sabrina Ionescu. Enough said.
Russ Steinberg has your latest NCAA Bracketology.
I always learn from Kurtis Zimmerman’s deep dives, and this one on Chris Starr of Nevada is no exception.
Jenny Dial Creech checks in with Kelsey Bone, who is playing in Turkey.
Three Michelle Smith stories? Is that too many? NO, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH MICHELLE SMITH.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Shenise Johnson, Indiana Fever
Shenise answered questions via email after re-signing with the Fever last week.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I want to start with a stat question. You were always a good free throw shooter, around 80 percent. And then, in 2016, you jumped to 93.8, and were at 95 when you got hurt in 2017. What changed?
SHENISE JOHNSON: A little back story to answer your first question. Nothing happens by accident. In 2015 we (Indiana Fever) were supposed to win a championship that year! We lost game 5 vs Minnesota at the Target center. That run solidified my ability to create my own shot and make plays for others. I was also tasked with guarding Whalen, Moore, and Augustus. In doing so it made me believe in myself more than ever. With that belief, matched with a relentless work ethic. You will notice the numbers across the board increase and improve. Which is why the injury in 2017 hurt my soul, and the people around me who watch/help me put the work in. Timing couldn’t have been worst. So, in short, the belief in myself became greater after playing at such a high level in 2015 and backing that up with a solid work ethic and routine.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Let’s talk about the injury and aftermath. What was the experience like, off the court? How did you manage the change in your routine life without basketball, and what filled your time instead?
SHENISE JOHNSON: The experience off the court while being injured was terrible. A week after I went down I met with our media relations department and expressed how important it was for me to continue with outreach and to sign me up for every request that came through the door. I thought this would help keep my mind busy and allow me to keep my strong ties in the community. But instead every kid, player, teacher, parent, fan only wanted to talk about my injury I sustained. That was really hard for me at the time. But I understand, I get it.
It was easy to maintain a schedule because there are so many things to work on while your pre-rehabbing. So instead of practice, I had weights, core, strengthening. Stretching. I had to build my muscles up in my leg for about a month prior to even getting my surgery. Crazy, right? So, the real work hadn’t even begun. Post-surgery forced me to think about life after basketball. I started MoeBuckets training and teamedup with Shoot 360 to train kids. I also started educating myself in the real estate department and jumped head first into that. Also, because we are in the age of streaming, and recording everything we do, I started creating content for my youtube channel as well. That drops this summer! I cant wait!
HOWARD MEGDAL: I remember sitting with Pokey a little while after you got hurt,
and she saw your injury as the turning point of the entire season, something borne out by the team’s record. Was it difficult to stop yourself from trying to rush back when you are seeing that downturn?
SHENISE JOHNSON: When it comes to playing, no one enjoys competing more. It killed me to watch the energy diminish loss after loss from my team but the locker room stayed tight. No one wavered or wanted out. We all still came in with a “today’s the day we turn this ship around” mentality. Unfortunately it didn’t equate to wins last season, but no doubt in my mind after going through a rough season in terms of wins and losses, we will flourish this season. It made us all stronger!
Thus, almost everyone re-signing and wanting to come back and play together. Our hearts are invested not only in basketball but with one another as well. I never felt rushed through out my recovery process. This is/was my first ever major injury! So, Pokey understood the physical part of getting back but she really gifted me time to allow my mental to heal and gain the confidence back in my knee. I can’t thank her enough!
HOWARD MEGDAL: I understand that you went into anaphylactic shock on the night you were drafted, putting you off Outback Steakhouse forever. As a WNBA veteran, what are your favorite food destinations on the road, and do you take any additional precautions after that traumatic event?
SHENISE JOHNSON: Food! Yes, I can’t really say my favorite places on the road, because I didnt travel as much in 2017 or 2018, but my favorite spot in Indy is Bluebeard. Hands down!! There menu changes and they use fresh local food that is in season. Amazing!! Try it if you’re ever in town. When it comes to my shrimp allergy I nipped that in the bud with acquiring 2 epipens lol. Haven’t had a situation since.
HOWARD MEGDAL: You are, of course, a Rochester-area legend, and were inducted into the New York State Section V Hall of Fame this past fall. How do you think a WNBA franchise could do up there, with a rich basketball tradition (the Rochester Royals of the NBA) and a recent NWSL team,the WNY Flash?
SHENISE JOHNSON: The idea of having a WNBA team in my home town would be ideal. I actually think WNBA teams would flourish in smaller markets that have roots in basketball like a Rochester or a Tennessee. They have a history of successful women’s teams in college. That means there is a fanbase already established. So. I’m here for it! Shoutout to my hometown! #585 #Standup