Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Parker vs. Moore: Comparing two of women's basketball's best
By Glenn Nelson ESPN HoopGurlz
Former Tennessee star Candace Parker and UConn's Maya Moore are two of the most talented players in women's basketball.
Weeks before Candace Parker initiated her run at a sequel national title with Tennessee and Maya Moore began to soar through the NCAA tournament with Connecticut, a friend of mine asked which of the rising young stars I thought would be better in the long run. Perhaps biased by familiarity, I didn't hesitate. Maya Moore, I told my friend, would emerge as the transcendent player of the next generation of women hoopers.
After watching Parker not only shoulder a huge burden of the second of back-to-back championships for the Lady Vols, but shoulder it on a bad shoulder, do I still believe this? Yes, because my friend's question was who would be the better player over time. If she'd asked who would be the bigger star, my answer likely would have been different.
The question regains its relevance as the nation's girls high school players gear up for the first NCAA evaluation period of the season this weekend. College coaches will be on the lookout for both types of players of course. But they will, in a few ways, be looking a little more for the Maya Moore model.
Moore is very much the genteel Georgian -- almost stoic on the floor and full of "sirs" and "ma'ams" off. She busts her butt on every play, even plays most players believe are over. She hustles to help an opponent off the floor, even those she may have committed there. She is gracious and elegant and without question a team-first player.
Parker is a lot of those things, too, though there is a bit of cruise to her game at times. Like Moore she will play with flair and emotion, but she takes those two elements to a different extreme. Parker sometimes is prone to preening and jersey popping -- a level of look-at-me omnipresent in the male version of the game but one just creeping into the girl's side.
I don't know Candace Parker the way I know Maya Moore, but perception is everything. When I see taunting and tongue wagging, I see the same things college coaches do at an evaluation event -- a reason to wonder if, in a hammer-down-the-nail-that-sticks-out world, this particular player will stir the team chemistry the right way. Or just stir.
Before anyone makes this out to be a UConn vs.Tennessee thing, I must repeat, this is a perception thing. Parker is the NBT (Next Big Thang) in women's basketball because, in addition to being otherworldly talented, she is demonstrative and loquacious. Those things will be used to sell products because, let's face it, men still are the majority of the decision-makers in the business and marketing worlds.
But the qualities that may sell say a Big Mac don't necessarily earn girls high school basketball players a scholarship offer. It's better to nail down the scholly first, then establish one's personality and Q-quotient.
That said, Moore could play aw-shucks Larry Bird to Parker's Showtime Magic Johnson. And that ain't bad, because Bird also raked in endorsements in addition to title rings.
Again, from the perspective of perspective, the way Moore plays -- all out -- is a better selling point for those in the market for a college career. Combine a work ethic with athleticism and you have a combination coaches will buy into every time.
To wit, the summer after her sophomore year in high school, we thought Maya Moore to be a long, highly athletic and extremely hard-working player. Back then, we viewed her not as a shooter but as a scorer who, with elite-level type of focus, could will her body to make shots when they were most needed. A couple weeks ago, analysts accurately were gushing over Moore's classic jump-shooting form -- a rarity, still, for girls and women. With hard work, she'd taken athletic ability and turned it into a skill.
The very same analysts, probably correctly, explained away Parker's apparent cruising by saying she was preternaturally smooth in the way she moved and played. Again, the perception thing. See the same thing in an as-yet unknown player, and you don't have ESPN analysts around to explain why that player doesn't appear to be playing as hard as others.
As for the original question of who eventually will be a better player, the game has not seen the likes of either. Parker does the things she does at 6-foot-4 for goshsakes. But Moore is a better shooter from range and a better ball handler -- two characteristics that will make her far more difficult to scheme for defensively than a player, albeit one who can play away from the basket, who is most dangerous in the paint.
Add to that Moore's lockdown ability as a defender, in combination with her length and quickness off the floor as a shot-blocker, plus her never-quit approach.
Forced to choose between the two, I'd just hope for one thing -- that I was the U.S. Olympic coach and could choose them both.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girls basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com