PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - She was too bulked up. Her legs were tired, she was playing too much in too short a time. The whispers had been with Maya Moore throughout the spring and most of the summer. And the whispers grew in volume with each missed shot.
What was wrong with Maya, we all asked.
Each other, that is. We'd forgotten the golden rule for preventing the spread of disinformation: Ask the source. So, almost when it was too late, I did.
Maya Moore shoots over two Flight defenders
Turns out nothing was wrong with Maya. She'd had a couple of big scoring games at U.S. Junior Nationals in Washington, D.C., "just to show people I could still shoot," she explained the other day. That same day, I'd asked Moore and her Georgia Metros coach, Kathy Richie-Walton, what had happened to Moore's shot.
"She's just not focusing on her shot right now," Richie-Walton had replied, addding, "We haven't been asking her to score lately."
"Could you?" I asked. "Just so I can know?"
Richie-Walton walked away, only to return two days later. Moore had just scored 42 points against The Family in the Nike Nationals semifinals.
"We asked her to score a little," Richie-Walton said, a glint in her eye. "Now you know."
Now we all know. The kid is special. A scorer deluxe last summer, Moore remade herself into a defensive stopper this summer. Next, she wants to become a better ballhandler. This is the stuff of greatness. And why HoopGurlz.com names her the Most Valuable Player of the summer's most prestigious tournament.
Not just for the 42 points against Indiana's The Family, but for her equally dominating nine points in pool play against All-Ohio. For her deliberate, cool-as-popcicles dash to the bucket and pullup, through-the-heart-of-the-hoop shot at the buzzer during the tourney championship game against the Tennessee Flight. And for the fact that she gutted out the final games of bracket play with a deep bruise on her left thigh on which she used an electro-stim machine for relief.
Maya Moore's thigh bruise required portable
Over a year ago, before Maya Moore was the household name (OK, households where someone plays elite-level girl's hoops) she is today, we'd put her at the top of the list of 2007 prospects, mostly because of her unparalled length, athleticism and focus. During the 2005 End of the Trail championship, when she willed in three-pointers, outran guards half her size and gobbled every loose ball and rebound to nearly take down an otherworldly Boo Williams team, we saw that focus came from determination and competitiveness that we'd rarely - if ever - glimpsed in the girl's game.
We saw it again at the Nike Tournament of Champions last December, when she scored 38 points for Collins Hill High School and nearly single-handedly took down the defending national champions, Christ the King, in the tournament championship game.
By then, Moore's jumpers found their mark too frequently to claim, as many did, that her form was flawed. Some athletes just defy analysis. You wouldn't, for example, teach kids to splay their legs on pullup jumpers the way Michael Jordan did, would you? What Moore does is make her teams win. What she has is the It Factor that separates the basketball goddesses from the mere mortals.
The rest of our all-tournament first team for Nike Nationals (our second through fourth teams will be posted later this week):
2006 HOOPGURLZ ALL-NIKE NATIONALS FIRST TEAM
(CLICK ON NAMES FOR PROFILES)
5-6 guard, 2007
The Lowdown: Sometimes lost in the galaxy of stars and super-sized novas, lil' Cetera may have been the littlest big-shot maker of the bunch. She is a penetrator deluxe, getting into cracks with her low-to-the-floor stance and quickness, then uses strength and lift to finish amidst a mass of defenders. Retreat too far to stop the attack and she's adept at the pullup jumper. Fall asleep on her on the perimeter, and she'll surprise and stick three-pointers, especially when the timing is absolutely necessary. DeGraffenreid also may have been the most feared on-ball defender on the summer circuit. Bottom line was, her team kept winning, even when it was outsized and apparently outgunned.
5-9 guard, 2009
The Lowdown: A perennial power, The Family is a team you seek to check out the likes of Ta'Shia Phillips, one of the nation's top post prospects, or Rebecca Gray, the sharp-shooting North Carolina commit. Not this week. The last tournament of summer belonged to a rising sophomore guard. Diggins was her team's leading scorer in its last three pool games, then hit 20 in the quarterfinals and it took Maya Moore's 42 to overshadow her 27 points in the semifinals. Along the way, Diggins revealed herself to be one of the nation's leading long-distrance shooters, as well as one of the quickest transporters of the basketball.
6-3 post, 2008
The Lowdown: Teammate Jantel Lavender is the most polished post scorer in her class, but after she graduates, powerful All-Ohio will be a Ya-Ya Sisterhood. That's because Dunning - Ya-Ya to all - has been watching carefully and was a revelation at the Nike Skills Academy. She may not yet have as many tricks on the blocks as Lavender, but she can dominate games with her energy - on the boards, defensively and facing up and attacking off the dribble. Her emergence as the team's leader likely will give All-Ohio the rare achievement of fielding national top-five players in consecutive years.
5-11 guard, 2007
The Lowdown: No other way to say it, she's just a scoring machine. In Charles Barkley-esque fashion, Hemingway led the tournament in scoring and rebounds through pool play, is strong and explosive, as likely to shoot over as she migh shoot through her defenders. She has very quick, compact moves off the dribble, wasting very little motion and, obviously, very few opportunities. Make no mistake, she's not just an inside scorer, penetrator and offensive-glass cleaner. Hemingway also has a very solid stroke from mid-range back to the three-point line. If stunted by defenses, she also sees the floor well enough to punish with dish-offs.
5-10 guard, 2008
The Lowdown: Except for Maya Moore, no one left a more memorable last impression than Kuehu. All she did was score 47 points in two bracket games, helping the Storm earn a berth in the Silver championship in spite of the absence of their starting center, Alyssa Brewer, who was out with a concussion. Kuehu glides around the floor with elegance, but then explodes with the ball, on the blocks and around the offensive glass. She has impossibly long arms, which aid her on defense and allow her to pound the dribble on the attack. She also is adept at making mid-air adjustments and can shoot the ball off the dribble. Watch the line grow to lure her off the island.
Glenn Nelson is the publisher of HoopGurlz.com and the editor-in-chief of Scout Media (www.Scout.com), an online sports network and magazine-publishing company and subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media. Glenn also founded and coached the Dragons and Northwest HoopGurlz select girls basketball teams. He previously was a longtime, national-award-winning basketball columnist and writer for The Seattle Times. His work also has appeared in several national magazines and books. He is co-author of "Rising Stars: The Ten Best Players in the NBA" (Rosen Publishing, 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.
Chris Hansen is the National Director of Scouting for Women's Basketball at HoopGurlz.com and Scout.com. Chris leads the panel that evaluates and ranks girl's basketball prospects nationally for HoopGurlz, Scout.com and Full Court Press (www.FullCourt.com). Chris has been involved in the women’s basketball community since 1998 as a coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Complete 2006 Nike Nationals Coverage Menu:
Stars of Nike Nationals III
The third, and last, in our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Stars of Nike Nationals II
The second in our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Stars of Nike Nationals
The first of our series of Nike Nationals all-tournament teams, as chosen by HoopGurlz.com.
Determination Wins Nike Nationals
Paced by the extraordinary Maya Moore, the Georgia Metros pushed and paced themselves to claim a title that eluded them last summer.
Day Three Report
All-Ohio, with the top post prospects in 2007 and 2008, leads the charge into the Nike semis.
Day Two Report
The new, improved Maya Moore, a look at prospects and photos from the day's competition.
Nike Nationals Standings
Results and standings from each pool.
Nike Nationals Stats Leaders
See who's tops in scoring, rebounding, assists or blocks.
Day One Report
The return of Elena DelleDonne and Angie Bjorklund, and a look at prospects plus news, notes and photos.
A Coach's Highs & Lows
A photographer's interpretation of what goes through the head of Tennessee Flight coach Matt Insell.