Photo by Barbara Johnston
NEW YORK -- Maya Moore began the month by becoming the third two-time selection as the Associated Press' player of the year. On Monday, the four-time All-American is expected to be selected No. 1 overall by Minnesota in the WNBA draft.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wouldn't officially confirm the UConn star was going to be the team's pick. However, she didn't deny it, either.
"If I were to confirm that I'd be in big trouble," she said in a recent conference call with reporters. "The assumptions that are being made are not off base, and this franchise is excited about the prospect of a very talented player out of the University of Connecticut."
Moore averaged 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 53 percent shooting from the field over her four years at UConn, including 22.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a senior. She finished fourth on the NCAA's career scoring list with 3,036 points, including 36 last Sunday night in UConn's loss to Notre Dame in the Final Four.
And Reeve says Moore stands out for more than just her numbers.
"I see a player who is extremely passionate about the game, and her overall skill level," Reeve said. "Her ability to shoot the basketball is what people look at. ... She runs and rebounds the ball well ... commits to every part of the game, does a bit of everything and (is) determined to be the best.
"The aspect that everyone always talks about that translates to success on our level is Maya's work ethic. When your best player is your hardest-working player, great things happen to you."
The Shock, who finished 6-28 last year in their first season after moving from Detroit, will pick second and are expected to select 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage. The 19-year-old has drawn comparisons to fellow Australian and three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, who was the same age when she was selected No. 1 overall by Seattle in 2001.
However, Australia's Herald Sun newspaper recently reported Cambage didn't want to play for Tulsa. Shock coach and general manager Nolan Richardson said he wouldn't be swayed by those comments.
"If that's the person we will choose to pick, then that's the person we will choose," Richardson said. "Whether or not she decides to play, that would still be her option. ... We're still going to do what we still need to do regardless of what a player says about where she wants to play."
That may not be an issue after all, as Cambage denied saying she didn't want to play in Tulsa in an interview posted on the league's website this week.
"That was taken so out of context it was ridiculous," Cambage said. "I was saying I'd love to go No. 1 and it would be nice, but Maya Moore will probably go No. 1 and I'll go No. 2.
"I really don't care where I go. I'm just happy that I'm here (in the U.S.)."
After Moore and Cambage, the choices aren't so clear among a pool deep with frontcourt players, including Texas A&M's Danielle Adams, Ohio State's Jantel Lavender and Xavier's Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips.
"It seems like there's a lot of bigs in the game compared to what I saw last year," said Richardson, entering his second season in the WNBA.
Chicago has the third pick, the Lynx will pick again at No. 4, followed by Chicago, San Antonio, Tulsa again, Atlanta and Indiana. New York, Washington and defending champion Seattle will close the first round.
For teams looking for guards, Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen, Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot, Texas A&M's Sydney Colson and Oklahoma's Danielle Robinson are among the top backcourt players.
"It's a draft that's deep, maybe not in terms of franchise players, but players that will help WNBA teams this year," Reeve said.
New York coach and GM John Whisenant, entering his first season leading a Liberty squad that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last year, had a lot of praise for Pohlen (14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists as a senior) and Vandersloot (19.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 10.2 assists).
"Pohlen was the California Player of the Year out of high school," he said. "She has continued to improve, shoots the ball well, big and strong, thinks well. ... (Vandersloot) is tremendously skilled, and might have an adjustment physically in the WNBA, but she'll play. I'll be happy if either one drops to 10."
Lavender and Phillips know they'll have to adapt to more physical play in the WNBA than they experienced in college.
"We'll have to focus in on the fact that these veterans have been doing this and know the tricks of the trade and how to do certain things to get rebounds over rookies like us," said the 6-4 Lavender, who was fifth in the NCAA in scoring at 22.8 points per game and led the Big Ten in with rebounding at 10.9. "We'll have to have a big emphasis on boxing out and really using the techniques we know to be rebounders in the league."
Phillips, who averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 12.4 boards, agreed.
"There are going to be a lot of taller players in the league that we didn't necessarily have to face in college," the 6-6 Phillips said. "So we're going to have to use speed and learn the tricks to give ourselves a little bit of an edge."
The Lynx also have the first two selections of the second round, giving them four out of the first 14 picks. Minnesota also won the No. 1 pick in the lottery for last year's draft, but traded it along with Renee Montgomery to Connecticut for former Gophers star Lindsay Whalen and the No. 2 pick. The Sun then took Moore's former UConn teammate Tina Charles, who went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors.
Reeve doesn't regret making that deal and likes the position the Lynx are in this year.
"I'm a former point guard and believe that guards win in this game," she said. "I'm a big believer of having leadership at that position. If I had to do it all over again, 100 percent absolutely I would do it.
"We're pleased with how things turned out and this coming season will show us a lot."
Training camps open on May 15 and the WNBA's 15th season tips off June 3.