- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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DULUTH, Ga. -- It's one of those near-universal experiences. You return as an adult to a place that was significant earlier in your life. Even if you're not a particularly reflective person, you can't help but reflect. Remember when …
Minnesota's Maya Moore is a reflective person, a thoughtful 24-year-old of whom her mother, Kathryn, says, "From the time she was a little kid, she was self-motivated. Very much so. When I was her age, I was nowhere near that mature."
In this same Arena at Gwinnett Center in 2004, Moore was a very disappointed 14-year-old. Her Collins Hill High School team had just lost a state championship game.
"I remember it was gut-wrenching," Kathryn Moore said, "because they were so close. It was something she didn't ever want to feel again."
Well, Moore hasn't won every title she has played for since then, but she has sure given it a great run.
Thursday, her Minnesota Lynx finished a sweep of Atlanta with a 86-77 victory for the WNBA title. It was Moore's second championship in her three years in the league. Last year, the Lynx made the WNBA Finals, but fell in four games to Indiana.
At Connecticut, Moore won two NCAA championships and went to the Women's Final Four the other two years. In the 2010 world championship and 2012 Summer Olympics, Moore won gold medals with the U.S. team. On her overseas teams in both Spain (2012) and China (2013) she won … you guessed it: league championships.
And in high school, she never did lose again in this building, winning state titles as a sophomore, junior and senior.
You can imagine Moore like Ms. Pac-Man, gobbling up championships everywhere she turns. She had 23 points Thursday and 60 in the series, and was named WNBA Finals MVP.
"It's amazing I'm here," Moore said in a champagne-filled Lynx locker room. "I've kind of had a full-circle moment."
The last time she celebrated a championship in this building, she was a 17-year-old prep superstar who every college program in the United States had wanted and UConn got.
"There's so much life that has been lived between the last game my senior year of high school and now," Moore said. "The Lord has taken my life on this journey and given me opportunities, and I try to take advantage of them in full. It's been fun, and it's such a blessing to have been healthy, too."
Moore led the Lynx in scoring this season (18.5) and averaged 20.9 points in Minnesota's seven playoff games.
"I have some winners," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of her Lynx players. "But I think Maya was the piece that put us over the top. In terms of giving us that confidence, that drive, that expectation. I think more than anything, it's the expectation. Maya expects to win."
At this point, everyone who pays attention to women's basketball expects her to win, too. And yet …
"Maya doesn't have an arrogant bone in her body," Reeve said. "There are not necessary many good guys that win. But Maya is the epitome of that: She's a good guy that wins.
"Anytime you're around Maya, you see that. Like coming back here, to this place she played when she was in high school. She says hi to the usher at the locker-room door. She touches people with her humility."
Now, before this gets too totally gush-fest for you, we'll add that Moore occasionally can irritate Reeve, just like she sometimes did with Geno Auriemma at UConn. Hey, even great players aren't perfect; they can goof up. But with Moore, Reeve knows when she makes a mistake, something really good is almost certain to follow.
"I remember being in New York for the [draft] lottery, and when it came up 'Minnesota,' I knew that Maya would be our pick," Reeve said of the lottery for the 2011 draft. "But I don't think that I realized how special Maya really was until she got in the trenches with us."
Moore will take just a little time off now, but then she'll be headed to China for another season, another title chase. She is signed, via her rookie contract, for one more season in Minnesota, a place she has come to love.
"Our fans make us feel so appreciated," Moore said. "I can't ask for anything more."
Well, actually she can. She wants more titles, of course.
"I want to win everything I can," she said, "so I can look back at the end of my career and be really satisfied. I know that championships are the result of the process: How I did as a leader, how I did individually, how I did as a teammate.
"There is a lot that goes into measuring success, and championships are the most well-known way. But so much of that is your team. I was drafted by a great team and I got off to a good start. I'm going to plan on always trying to be the best for my team."
Moore was asked, if she could somehow go back to that night she lost a state title her freshman season in high school, what would she say to her 14-year-old self.
"I would tell her to keep doing what she was doing," Moore said smiling. "Keep learning, keep asking questions, surround yourself with good people."
No time travel needed, actually. All those things are exactly what she has done.
At this point, doesn’t everyone who pays attention to women’s basketball just expect Maya Moore to win? Thursday marked Moore’s second WNBA championship in her three years in the league -- in the same building she was first crowned a winner.