ATLANTA — Despite being the opposition, Maya Moore got a noticeable cheer as she was introduced at Philips Arena on Tuesday. There were even a few No. 23 Minnesota Lynx shirts in the crowd.
It’s a rare trip to Atlanta for Moore during the WNBA season.
The former Collins Hill star makes her offseason home in the city, but hardly ever gets a chance to play in front of family and friends here.
During her Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011, Moore played at Philips Arena and even had a few days to stay in town before her next game.
“But we’re headed straight up to Connecticut, my other home, after this,” Moore said. “It’s still a nice visit, to have my family and friends be able to see me and my team live.
“Several of them are Lynx fans because I’m on the team. So it’s a road game, but we’re still going to have some love in the stands.”
A smattering of applause followed each time Moore scored one of her team-best 23 points, but Atlanta swamped Minnesota in the fourth quarter for a 88-75 win. The Lynx fought back from a big first-half deficit to finally take a 70-66 lead at the end of the third quarter. Then the Dream went on a 14-1 run and the Minnesota starters, including Moore, were pulled from the game.
The 6-foot forward was coming off a season-high 28 points, including six 3-pointers, in a big win over New York on Sunday and is having her best season in an already glowing professional career. She’s averaging 17.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds, helping the Lynx to the top spot in the Western Conference.
“There have been some great moments and some rough spots,” Moore said of this season. “I think we’ve been moving in the right direction. We haven’t reached where we’re going to be, but I think we’re moving forward, not staying stagnant.”
Moore herself just keeps getting better and better. No mean feat after being all-everything in high school.
She went on to a tremendous collegiate career at Connecticut, one of the premier programs in the country, twice winning a national championship. She was drafted No. 1 overall by Minnesota, voted rookie of the year and won the WNBA title in 2011.
She brought home Olympic gold for the U.S. last summer in London and then returned for another run to the finals with Minnesota. The Lynx lost in four games to Indiana, despite Moore increasing all her season averages and percentages from a year earlier.
Moore had little time to absorb the loss though. She left seven days later for China to play for Shanxi.
“It was pretty rough, not just the transition from one team to another, but one country to another,” Moore said. “And the other side of the world.
“I was there for a day and playing the next day. So it was off to the races. But our coaches did a good job of helping me manage and getting me the rest I needed.”
Moore and her mom, who made the trip, lived in a hotel for the three-month season. They arrived in late October and spent a cold, gray winter in the northern China province.
“My teammates and our home fans were awesome,” Moore said. “They were, I think, the best fans in the league. They came out and supported us so well.”
Moore averaged 38.7 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.6 steals in 28 games as Shanxi won the league championship in its first year of existence. She scored 60 points in one game against Yunnan and four times topped the 50-point mark.
“I just tried to get to know my teammates the best I could through my translator,” Moore said. “Our camaraderie was really good.
“Some of the travel was a little tough. Sometimes we’d have a train and bus or a plane and bus. But we did what we needed to do and had a really good road record — which is really rare. It’s typically hard to win on the road. For all the reasons you might think of. But it brought us closer and it built our confidence.”
Moore finally got a bit of a break after that, coming back to the U.S. in February. It wasn’t without commitments — she was at the NBA All-Star event and is involved as the face of United Way’s early-grade reading program.
But she did get to spend time with family and friends.
“And I got to see my Huskies win in New Orleans,” Moore said. “It was just a really good offseason.
“In April, I was in the gym training again, trying to tighten some things up to do it all again.”