Sports

A Day With Maya. . .

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Maya Moore (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Maya Moore (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

By DOUG FEINBERG,  AP Basketball Writer

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Maya Moore can barely take another bite of  salmon. Her eyes transfixed on the TV set, she’s about to lose her lunch.

“C’mon!” she shouts. “How could they get that wrong?”

A blown call? A missed shot? A messed-up play?

Nope, this is much more riveting. This is how she watches the TV game show “Family Feud” every day, and today the best player in women’s college basketball is hollering at yet another poor, overmatched contestant.

Kind of like how opponents must feel when they try to guard the UConn star.

All eyes always seem to be on No. 23 whenever she’s on the basketball court. Turn away for a second and you could miss her doing something special.

It’s not every day that a college player is invited to play in President Obama’s birthday game with NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Yet there she was last summer, the lone female player, holding her own –and then some– against the NBA’s best.

“She’s really good. She’s really, really talented,” James said.

But for all she’s accomplished on the court, with two national championships and a NCAA record 90-game winning streak, Moore enjoys a bit of anonymity off the court.

Walking around campus, she seems like any other student going about her business.

“Out of 10 days, one day would be people wanting a picture or asking for an autograph,” she said. “It’s not bad at all, it’s really relaxed, and I think the campus is pretty used to having good basketball players around and it’s part of the pride of UConn.”

Moore recently allowed The Associated Press to follow her around campus for a day, giving an exclusive look at her daily routines — right down to her choice of television programming.
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RISE AND SHINE: Moore’s day starts out by grabbing a bagel and orange juice at the school’s co-op, located across the street from Gampel Pavilion –her home away from home. Wearing a UConn basketball jacket and carrying a bag with her No. 23 on it makes it easy to spot the school’s all-time scoring leader.

Yet she breezed in and out without much of a passing glance from the other patrons. Two women who were standing behind Moore in line, while she waited for her bagel to be toasted, were shocked to hear afterward who had been standing in front of them.

“Wow, we had no idea,” Sarah Davies said.

After grabbing her food, Moore usually would take the 5-minute walk to her one class. But on this bitterly cold day, the four-time Big East scholar athlete showed she isn’t just book smart. Seeing a campus bus on the corner, the All-American sprinted toward it to get out of the cold.

“Usually I walk, but on a day like today you got to take every advantage you can,” she said with a laugh.
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STUDENT-ATHLETE: Moore has one class this semester, news writing for radio and television, and it meets twice a week. The Academic All-American has an individualized major titled “sports, media and promotion.”

She’s working with a partner on a project about UConn’s new football coach Paul Pasqualoni.

Moore turned down the opportunity to apply to be a Rhodes Scholar last fall, when she was the lone collegiate player on the U.S. national women’s basketball team. Moore helped them win the gold medal at the World Championship.
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LUNCH TIME: After class, Moore heads over to the student union to get a bite to eat. The Atlanta native enjoys her soul food, but tries to eat the U’s salmon a few days a week. On Thursday, her favorite fish was on the menu along with mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Even with all the UConn students getting lunch, none of them seemed to recognize her. The food handlers, though, were excited to see their favorite customer. A few congratulations, hugs, and fist bumps later, and Moore was off to Gampel to eat and get ready for practice.

Part of her daily ritual is to eat while watching TV, and her incredible competitiveness comes out with the “Price is Right.”

Usually, there are teammates around to play against, but on this day she was alone in the player’s lounge.

“It’s not as much fun without them here, but it’s always fun to play against the contestants,” Moore said.

After watching her two game shows, Moore started getting ready for practice.

“It takes about an hour of heat, stretching and the training room to get my body ready for practice,” she said. “Then I like to get on the court half an hour before everyone else to get some shots up.”
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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: While Moore is able to go unnoticed around campus, there is no hiding on the basketball court.

Even though she’s left an indelible mark on the program and is the best player on the No. 1 team in the country, she’s not immune to barbs from coach Geno Auriemma. In this practice, he kept
harping on her inability to set screens.

She’s heard just about everything from the Hall of Fame coach during her four years, and she takes his jabs in stride, using them as fuel to make herself better.

Under the shadow of her recently honored number and name in Gampel, Moore took jumper after jumper, trying to improve an already incredible shot.

She wasn’t going to be content until everything was right in her mind.

After the 21/2-hour practice, Moore and her teammates went to lift weights for 30 minutes. She has spent countless hours working on her strength and conditioning. On this day, she was more focused on keeping her teammates spirits up with a rendition of Alicia Keys’  “Superwoman.”
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MEDIA: While most of her teammates dread their sessions talking to the media, Moore relishes it. In four years, she has been in nearly all 149 postgame and post-practice interview sessions.

“Maya is one of the most well-spoken, intelligent and engaging players I have had the privilege of working with,” said
Connecticut Post sports writer Rich Elliott, who has covered UConn for the last 10 years. “No matter how long her media session might last, she answers every question as if it was the first one posed to her that day.

“She also puts great thought and sincerity into her response,” Elliott said, “and she looks you in the eye when she speaks. Maya is a professional in every way.”

Amazingly enough, Moore hasn’t joined the social media wave. She doesn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account, preferring in-person interaction.
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DAYS END: After finishing with the media, Moore worked on a research paper and hung around Gampel for a few more hours to get some more treatment. Her day at the “office” ended with an ice bath, then it was back to the apartment she shares with senior teammate Lorin Dixon.

“She really is very down to earth,” said Dixon, who has lived with Moore since they were both freshmen. “Even when people come up to her to chat or take a photo, she is always very obliging and talkative.”

Moore always tries to finish her day with some basketball, too.

“When I get home I try to catch a college basketball game on TV,” she said. “You got to love this time of year. I try to get bed around midnight and then start over again tomorrow.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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