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May/June 2012 Moore's Encore Bill Bumpas

hat to do for an encore?

After being chosen by the Minnesota Lynx as the first overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, Maya Moore’s impressive first professional season will be a hard one to top. Not only did she and the Lynx win the league championship, but Moore herself also earned an All-Star selection and the Rookie of the Year Award. It was a summer for the record books—and one Moore will never forget.

But accolades are nothing new for the second-year forward, who won three consecutive Georgia Class 5A titles in high school and then back-to-back NCAA crowns at the University of Connecticut (2009-10). It was there in Storrs, Conn., that Moore became a household name and built a jaw-dropping athletic résumé.

During each of her four seasons with the Huskies, she was selected as a First Team AP All-American. She received numerous Player of the Year honors and led UConn to 150 wins and only four losses—a mark that included UConn’s record of 90 consecutive victories over a span of two and a half seasons. Equally as brilliant in the classroom, Moore also graduated with a 3.7 GPA and was twice named the NCAA Academic All-American of the Year.

Maya Moore #23

Team: Minnesota Lynx
Born: June 11, 1989
Height: 6-0
Position: Forward
College: University of Connecticut
Drafted: 1st overall in the 2011 WNBA Draft

Again, where can Moore—the first female basketball player to sign a deal with the Jordan brand—go from there?

According to the star herself, the answer is London. Moore has her sights set on playing with the U.S. women’s basketball team this summer in an effort to bring home the gold at the Olympic Games.

“It’s really amazing,” Moore said. “Every year that goes by, the Lord outdoes Himself. I’m just trying to do my best to make the most out of each of the doors He opens. Not only will I have the opportunity to play for a gold medal this summer, but also to be able to do it with my former head coach (Geno Auriemma) and some other UConn grads. That will be a huge blessing.”

Where Moore really goes, however, has more to do with her life than her career. That’s where her Christian faith comes into play. According to her, that faith is even more significant than the silky-smooth moves she makes famous on the court. WNBA fans won’t soon forget her one-handed baseline reverse scoop in the first game of the 2011 WNBA Finals, which was reminiscent of a similar play made famous by Dr. J in the 1980 NBA Playoffs.

“Even though I’ve got a lot of awards and honors, it’s nothing compared to what the Lord has done to my heart and what He’s done for the world,” Moore said.

Moore’s faith has not gone unnoticed among her teammates and others close to her.

As a 14-year WNBA veteran, Lynx center Taj McWilliams-Franklin has been around the block a few times. And at 41, the multi-time All-Star is getting a bit tired of seeing young college kids come into the league with selfish attitudes. So it was quite refreshing when Moore joined the squad.

“I will be the first to say that she impressed me with her attitude of doing whatever she needed to do for the team,” said McWilliams-Franklin, currently the oldest player in the WNBA. “Maya has the humility and passion to be the best at whatever she chooses because she puts God first in all things. No matter what the stat line says during or after the ball game, God’s stat line says, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ That is what she aspires to hear at all times.”

This sentiment is echoed by Michelle Backes, an FCA volunteer who serves as the Lynx co-chaplain.

“Her faith anchors her, and she’s very humble,” Backes said. “She’s confident yet humble, and she’s confident not in her gifts but in that she has an incredible gift that God has given her to use for His Glory. So it’s not about Maya.”

The origins of Moore’s faith come from her church and her mother, Kathryn Moore, and a major turning point that came when she was 11 years old.

Born in a single-parent home in Jefferson City, Mo., Moore and her mother often relied on their extended family in the area. But that all changed when Moore’s mother took a job in Charlotte, N.C., and moved them across the country. One year later, they moved once more to the outskirts of Atlanta.

According to Moore, it was a critical time in her faith as she “didn’t really have a firm belief” at that point. Parting ways with the extended family meant that the young girl and her mom would face a major decision regarding how they would continue as followers of Christ.

“We had to choose if we were going to continue to go to church and seek the Lord or if it was just something we’d been doing because of our family,” Moore said.

Moore realizes now that people in similar situations often neglect the admonishment in the Bible to get connected with a local believing body. For example, Hebrews 10:24-25 offers, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Kathryn and her daughter decided to get connected.

“My mom and I really got a chance to take our faith and own it,” Moore said. “And in that process we found a really good church in Georgia called World Changers Church International.”

Moore with FCA volunteer Michelle Backes at last season’s Minnesota Lynx FCA Faith and Family Night

Moore believes getting plugged in with a biblically sound community of Christians gave them a spiritual boost.

“When you find a church where the Lord wants you, your maturity level just starts to grow,” Moore said. “We just got some good teaching and just learned the Bible, and the pastor preached it in a way that made it easier to understand. The Holy Spirit really did a work in my heart, and I found a really good connection with God as my Father.”

Looking back at her childhood and seeing how far she has come, Moore is grateful for God’s sovereign control over her life.

“I’m just happy that the Lord grabbed my heart when He did,” she said. “And I’m grateful to be in a position of success and hopefully be a good example and a role model.”

As Moore grew in her walk with the Lord, she also grew in her skills as an athlete. She flourished on the basketball court, becoming a top-ranked high school player and ultimately choosing powerhouse UConn as the place to begin her collegiate career.

She worked hard at her craft, becoming an all-round player who could both knock down a shot from the 3-point arc and dominate in the paint.

Her schedule was hectic to say the least, with Sunday-morning practices and late-night study sessions. But Moore made a commitment to stay grounded spiritually by getting involved with campus ministry and keeping up with her local church in Georgia by watching the weekly worship services on the Internet.

“It came down to the fact that I wanted to stay connected, and I got into a habit of making sure that I didn’t go through a week without making that a part of it,” Moore said. “I worked hard as a student. I had a demanding basketball schedule and we traveled a lot. But technology has opened up so many doors for staying connected to the Word. I don’t think there’s any excuse as far as not keeping these things a part of your life because you’re super busy.”

When speaking to young believers at events including FCA Faith and Family nights, Moore often encourages student-athletes to stay active with a body of believers, even if it takes a little creativity.

“It’s so important to actually go and make that a part of your life because it’s easy to let it slip away,” she said. “There are so many distractions and things you can do with your time. It’s easy to look up and realize that another week has gone by and you haven’t gone to church. And that stuff wears on your soul; your heart gets hard. It’s just like anything important in your life; you have to make time for it.”

Another way the soon-to-be-second-year pro stays grounded in her faith is through intimate worship.

“She really likes music,” Backes said. “She’s passionate about it.”

Backes, whose husband, Ron, was an Olympic shotputter and currently serves as an FCA area representative in Minnesota, helps lead a Bible study for Moore and the other Lynx players. According to Backes, Moore’s enthusiasm for worship and song was evident at last year’s post-game FCA Faith and Family event.

The players involved in the Bible study took ownership of the evening, leading the session for the more than 300 in attendance. After praying about what to do for the event, Moore felt led to close the time by leading the crowd in the worship song “Glory to God” made popular by Fee.

“Even though I’ve got a lot of awards and honors, it’s nothing compared to what the Lord has done to my heart and what He’s done for the world.” – Moore

“She’s gifted,” Backes said. “Obviously, as a person she’s not perfect, and she would say, ‘I am not perfect,’ but she will lead others to Him.”

Recalling that moment of worship, McWilliams-Franklin realized that her teammate had the ability to help people understand God’s love through music.

“Maya has a gift to be able to sing and minister in that vein, and she used it to reach some of the younger generation in the audience,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “It was amazing and touching. God was definitely in the building.”

Added Moore, “It was really powerful to be able to use music to bring glory to God because I don’t get to do that very often with the fans. On a few of my teams, I was kind of known to be the person who hooked people up with different music, whether it was Christian hip-hop or other contemporary Christian music. Teammates from all of the teams I’ve been on know that I’m always singing in the locker room—a worship song or something like that. It’s just a part of my personality.”

Does that mean Moore will pick up a microphone when she hangs up the Jordans?

“Possibly,” she said. “I know I’ll be involved in it somehow, so we’ll see. But I’m not going to put a limit on what God wants, so anything He wants me to do is what I want to do.”

For now the sky appears to be the limit when it comes to the platform of basketball that God has given this No. 23.

“It’s just an exciting time to continue to see what the Lord has for me and hopefully to continue to make His Name great,” Moore said. “So far, it’s been a great ride.”

Now, about that encore. What’s next? Only God knows.

Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photos by Terrence Vaccaro and David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) Courtesy of Michelle Backes

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