Follow the leader: Lynx’s Moore becoming more vocal

Clearly, Maya Moore (23) has won the respect of her WNBA teammates, judging by the quotes coming out of Lynx training camp recently. Moore, though just 24, is now being viewed as a team leader in Minnesota.   

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MINNEAPOLIS — Duke women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie asked her players to zero in on one word during their 2011 NCAA tournament regional final against Connecticut.

Moore.

"The entire scouting report was about her," said Tricia Liston, then a little-used freshman Blue Devils guard.

It was nothing new for current Lynx forward Maya Moore, who scored 28 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in her last collegiate victory (Notre Dame knocked off the Huskies in that year’s Final Four). But Moore, as she has for so many millennial female hoops aspirants, left a lasting impression on Liston as Minnesota’s top pick in last month’s WNBA Draft navigated the rest of her college career.

"I definitely remember playing against her," Liston said. "I never dreamt of playing with her, though."

This week at the Lynx’s training camp, Liston and a handful of other new faces can draw the envy of the entire women’s basketball generation that’s watched Moore go from college superstar to Olympic gold medalist to WNBA heroine. With the rest of Minnesota’s returning championship core either returning from overseas commitments or sidelined, Moore has been thrust into a position of leadership she’s accustomed to but hasn’t had to embrace since stepping foot in the Twin Cities.

Liston, fellow 2013 draft picks Asya Bussie, Christina Foggie and Asia Taylor, draft holdovers Damiris Dantas and Waltiea Rolle and recently acquired guard Tan White would never have known that, though.

"The way she sets an example on the floor is one thing, and then she’s always talking to you," said Liston, the 12th overall pick in the April 14 draft.

"She’s trying to help you. She’s telling you ‘do this, do that.’ If you mess up a little bit, she’s gonna tell you how to do it the best way."

That’s not exactly the Maya Moore those in Lynx circles have grown used to since the franchise drafted her first overall in 2011.

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Moore’s reputation as one of the top women’s players ever is already well-established, highlighted by her two WNBA championships in three years of professional play, two NCAA crowns, an Olympic gold medal in 2012 and WCBA (China) titles each of the past two offseasons. But the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP, much like the kid in class with a 4.2 GPA who’s amiable but can sometimes seem isolated due to his or her superior intelligence, had yet to establish a vocal place among the Minnesota locker-room hierarchy.

Not so this preseason.

Fellow starters Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus and Janel McCarville have yet to rejoin the Lynx after completing their overseas campaigns. That leaves Moore, White and second-year point guard Lindsey Moore as the only players at camp with any WNBA experience.

And it’s not tough to guess who the default on-floor general has become.

"The very first time we circled up (after practice) with this group, Maya had tremendous things to offer," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "It’s just been nonstop since then, that she just really, really understands the value of her words."

Said Maya Moore: "It’s definitely an opportunity for me to step up and just do the things that I’ve been taught to do growing up . . . just constantly being someone who is vocally engaged and saying the right things that my team needs me to say."

Her resume starts with helping raise about a dozen cousins in her pre-adolescent home of Jefferson City, Mo. Her high school stardom in the Atlanta area rendered her far-and-away the best player on almost every AAU and interscholastic court and forced her to assume a leadership role. So did her progression in four years at UConn under Geno Auriemma, a time during which Moore says she grew more and more comfortable voicing her input and issuing directives.

But throughout her ascension, she’s always led primarily by example. That became especially true when she entered the Lynx fold, where Whalen and Augustus were assumed to have far more credibility given their veteran status.

They still have it. But entering her fourth WNBA campaign, so does Moore.

"My (college) freshmen when I was a senior are now in the WNBA," Moore, 24, pointed out, "so I’m officially old."

But her follow-my-lead tone setting hasn’t gone anywhere. "She’s always going 100 percent," Liston said. "Yesterday in a drill that I don’t even know if we were going 100 percent, she’s diving on the floor trying to get her stops."

But just like she’s improved her ballhandling since last season, Moore’s expanded the nonphysical realm of her game, too.

And taking a backseat once the other seasoned players return early next week won’t be acceptable, Reeve said. Defending WNBA champion Minnesota needs all the mental advantages it can gain during its quest for a repeat title, one which went unfulfilled in 2012 after the Lynx won it all in Moore’s rookie year. "I think she’s more comfortable right now in using more leadership vocally versus just kind of playing and just embracing and taking hold of this team," said the coach, whose club faces its first preseason test Monday when the Australian National Team is in town. "It comes at a good time, obviously, in this training camp, and I’m gonna make sure that I encourage her it doesn’t slow down just because the vets she’s playing with get back."

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