By Doug Feinberg
AP Basketball Writer
Maya Moore has excelled everywhere she’s played, winning championships from college to the WNBA and Europe. Now, she’s leaving her mark on the Chinese women’s basketball league.
Averaging 45 points a game for the Shanxi Flame, Moore has helped bring new fans to the women’s game in a basketball crazed nation.
“They show maybe five NBA games a week here,” Moore told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “They get a good amount of coverage and people love it. We are starting to get a little more interest about our game.”
The NBA long has seen China as a place for huge growth.
It was evident at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with the basketball games sold out and the contest between the U.S. men and China having nearly 100 million viewers. With Europe still feeling the effects of the financial downturn, China’s competitive salaries and shorter season have made it one of the top destinations for the world’s elite women basketball players.
The former UConn star is earning mid-six figures, which is on par with European salaries. While most European leagues go from October to May, China only plays until February. This will give Moore time to rest before the Minnesota Lynx open training camp in May. It will also provide the young face of women’s basketball the opportunity to participate at the NBA All-Star game in February and be around for the women’s Final Four.
Besides Moore, the talent is improving throughout the league. Tamika Catchings, Elizabeth Cambage, Sophia Young, and Jayne Appel are all playing this year. Swin Cash has played there in the past.
“I think it’s been a good introduction for a lot of the fans seeing some of the Olympic level women over here,” Moore said. “To see the talent, it’s been, I think, a very surprising thing for the fans. Interest will continue to spark more of a demand for players and the basketball level will rise. This area of the world will continue to want basketball even more, elevating that market.”
The WNBA has taken notice of the recent boom in China.
“We know the sport of basketball is on the rise in China and the WNBA has already had great success on the international stage,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “I am really encouraged that there are now many more people around the globe — including China — who know what the WNBA is all about. We’ve exposed more people to the game, to the players, to the story both on and off the court … and this will only help grow our league both domestically and abroad.”
While Moore has definitely brought interest with her play, Catchings has tried to mentor her teammates.
“I think my approach is probably different than the approach of some of the younger players,” Catchings said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “I feel like my job is to teach my teammates how I play and how to have fun doing it.”
It didn’t take long for Moore to endear herself to her new team. Moore, the first woman basketball player to be signed by the Jordan brand, gave a pair of yellow and red sneakers to each of her teammates.
Then she started playing and the team only has lost once since. Moore introduced herself to the Chinese fans almost immediately with a 60-point performance in her third game, which just happened to be nationally televised.
Moore was hard-pressed to remember ever scoring close to that before. She had 48 in high school and 48 was her college best.
Connecticut and Olympic coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t surprised by his former star’s success.
“Maya is Maya,” he said. “Her scoring that many points isn’t a real shock. She can really do whatever she wants.”
Basketball has been the easy part for Moore since coming over to China. Communicating with teammates has taken a little more work with up to four languages being spoken in team huddles.
“It’s pretty comical,” Moore said laughing. “I speak English, one of my teammates is Korean. That’s two languages. Two of our coaches are Spanish — one is the Spanish national team head coach. The first couple days I was there, my head was spinning.”
On the court, there didn’t seem to be many communication issues. The team uses hand signals and numbers. Moore said she learned some basic words to get by.
“I’m getting better, I know about 10 words so far, I’m learning new ones every day,” she said.
Moore also has a personal assistant assigned by the team to help her with basics like grocery shopping and getting around.
“I think the success to playing overseas really relies heavily on your translator and how well the team is able to help you adjust to them and being in a foreign country,” said Catchings, who also spent time playing in Korea. “It’s definitely an adjustment. Your team and the organization becomes your family while you are over here.”
Moore, who played in Spain last winter, also has had the benefit of having her mom with her. She came over in October and has spent most of the first two months in China, including Thanksgiving. The two have been put up in a “Western-style” hotel for the four-month season.
“It’s really been great having her around and she’ll be here for Christmas,” Moore said. “She’s experiencing China herself.”
Among the things Moore has learned to appreciate while being in China are some of the freedom she has in the United States.
“It’s kind of hard not having unrestricted Internet,” she said. “There’s certain things you can’t view. Certain liberties you don’t have. YouTube, Twitter, things like that. There are certain social media sites. You’re so used to having access to whatever we need. It’s different that way.” (end)