The area is devoid of pro sports teams, so in Connecticut it's all about the UConn Huskies. The centerpiece is the school's basketball program.
And the star is Maya Moore.
The sophomore sensation burst on the scene with a record-breaking freshman season, sparking a heavy load of expectations going into the 2008-09 season. A widespread preseason favorite to be national player of the year, the Collins Hill grad is blanketed with media coverage in basketball-crazed Connecticut.
"It's not like crazy," said Moore, whose Huskies open the season Sunday against Georgia Tech. "If I go to a mall or something, maybe one person will either ask me for an autograph or ask me about the season. The people are all nice about it. They're just used to great women's basketball up here."
Moore is the next in line of UConn stars, a list that includes players like Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Kara Wolters, Diana Taurasi and Swin Cash. The versatile 6-foot forward has met the former Huskie stars, occasionally tapping them for advice.
She sees Lobo, a television commentator, regularly when she covers UConn games.
"(Lobo's) definitely one of my role models," Moore said. "Doing (TV) commentary and public speaking, that's an ideal lifestyle for an athlete who has retired."
If Moore continues her current path, she may have a Lobo-esque legend in Storrs.
The Maya hype all started before she even signed with the Huskies, who scored a huge recruiting coup by signing the two-time Naismith National Player of the Year Award winner. Only Tennessee star and current WNBA rookie phenom Candace Parker could boast that as a high school player.
Still, Moore was joining a loaded women's basketball program, so her playing time was uncertain. She actually didn't start in the early stages of her freshman season, before injuries pushed her into the starting lineup. But in both roles, starting or off the bench, she flourished.
"I knew what I was going to bring every day," Moore said of her expectations going into the 2007-08 season. "I was going to work hard and bring my energy and skills to the table. However coach wanted to use those was fine with me. Because of injuries I was forced into a starting position that I was ready for. ... I just had a bigger opportunity than (UConn) freshmen have had in the past."
Moore made the most of it.
She averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds, setting a Big East freshman scoring record and winning the conference's player of the year honor, the first freshman (male or female) to ever win the award. She also was just the second freshman all-time to make the Associated Press All-American first team.
The individual success wasn't matched by UConn, which saw its season end with a Final Four loss to Stanford. It was a painful ending for a program that generally measures its success by NCAA championships.
"I definitely think expectations are higher this year," said Moore, who has returned to Atlanta just twice since high school graduation. "We have a lot of hard work to do if we want to be better than last year, but we have the potential to be better."
If UConn tops last year and wins an NCAA title, the Huskies will certainly be thrust into the spotlight.
As will their star, who is enjoying the recognition.
"I think (women's basketball) is a step higher (at Connecticut)," Moore said. "I don't think anything can compare to Connecticut women's basketball, a sellout every night in front of thousands of people. Everywhere we go, we have supporters. The Virgin Islands. San Diego. You're always going to have Connecticut fans. Huskie Nation definitely represents."
SideBar: The Moore File
· Who: Connecticut basketball player Maya Moore
· Class: Sophomore
· Height: 6-foot
· High school: Collins Hill
· One of only two freshmen all-time to be named to the Associated Press All-American first team
· Only freshman, male or female, to be selected as Big East Conference player of the year
· Averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds, setting a Big East record for freshman scoring
· Led Collins Hill to state titles her final three seasons, twice earning Naismith National Player of the Year honors