Maya Moore has been an elite player and a winner at every level — high school in Georgia, college at UConn, in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx and in the pro leagues in Europe and China.
She also has been dedicated to helping make the game stronger for the players who have come after her. Part of that commitment is her involvement as host for the inaugural Jordan Brand Classic for girls.
The event has been bringing together elite boys players from around the United States for 14 years and added an international game eight years ago. Now, the top girls players from around the nation get their turn at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The girls game tips off at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday, with the international game at 1:30 and the boys game at 8. A boys game for the top talent in the New York City area is also scheduled.
Moore’s presence is not just as figurehead or spokeswoman. She was with the players on Tuesday night at a welcome bowling event and then addressed the players Wednesday after practice.
Moore spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports on Wednesday to talk about her involvement in the Jordan Classic, why these showcase games are important and the next crop of UConn Huskies.
Q: Why did you want to be involved in this event?
A: Ever since I’ve been with The Brand, there’s been a maximum and renewed interest in how can we better capture basketball as a whole. The way we’re moving as a sports culture is that women are involved more than ever. There are so many talented women’s basketball players out there in high school and this is a great showcase, just like it is for the boys. I wanted to make sure I was involved in making this an experience for the high school girls that would be unique and meaningful. This is going to be a really fun week to display their talents and help prepare them better for the next level.
Q: You have the experience of having played in McDonald’s All American Game in high school. Why are these showcase events important?
A: I think first, it’s just fun and exciting and it’s rewarding for the athletes to be celebrated for all the hard work and investment that the players and their families have made into their craft. Second, it exposes them to what next level will be like. There’s more attention and the talent is great and that creates more pressure. You’ll probably meet a future teammate or opponent. Hopefully, because of the people you meet at this type of experience, you will leave with wisdom and knowledge to prepare for college or the pros. This is a week that can be fun but also impactful as to what they walk away with. They will leave with more gear (laughs) and more wisdom than they came in with.
Q: You mentioned the pressure element of this. You also have star players who are used to having the ball in their hands, teams that only have a couple of days of practice and you aren’t likely to run a lot of set plays. How difficult is to get yourself ready as a player to compete with those challenges?
A: It can be a very nerve-wracking experience. This might be the biggest stage that some of them will have played on. The pressure can be good to see how you deal with it. It reveals what kind of player you are. But you still have to play basketball and not caught up in the pressure. I see these players being resilient and embracing the pressure.
I hope there is an extra touch out there of fun. Your high school season is over, your college scholarship is not determined by the game. I want them to enjoy it. You might see some extra moves that you don’t normally see. I anticipate players trying to stay loose and sharing the ball. You have to do what you do. Whatever got you here, just do it.
Q: One of the players, Napheesa Collier from Incarnate Word outside St. Louis, is from your hometown, Jefferson City, Mo., and she is also going to UConn. Have you had any interaction with her?
A: I met her once when I was back visiting family in Jefferson City. She was a freshman or maybe even going into her freshman year. I really didn’t know her, but people in my family have said to me, ‘She reminds me of you.’ Hopefully she turns out to be a great player. Last night we had a little event for the kids and I saw her there. I’m excited that she is going to UConn. It’s really cool and kinda strange that we have a very similar story of our growing up.
RELATED: Napheesa Collier named to ALL-USA First Team
Q: Along with Collier, there are two other UConn signees in this game in Katie Lou Samuelson from Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) and De’Janae Boykin from Flowers (Baltimore). Have you taken special interest to give them some insight into what they can expect at UConn?
A. For this game, I’m going to tell the referees to make sure no fouls are called on them and tell the coaches to run all plays for them (laughs.). I would love to share more specifically about my experience at UConn if it comes up. I’ve lived it so anything I can tell them to help, I’d be willing to do.
They are impressive, just from meeting them and have a good head on their shoulders. I definitely have a sense of pride about the future Huskies, but I’m excited for all the girls. I want them all to shine, do what they do and show out. And it’s not like I can cheer for the East or the West. There are UConn players on both teams (laughs).
By Josh Barnett, USA TODAY High School Sports