McDonald’s All-American Mariya Moore has Salesian aimed at a third state finals appearance.
By CLAY KALLAM | Contributor
“She hates to be good.”
“She expects to be great,” said Salesian High girls basketball coach Steve Pezzola of Mariya Moore.
So far, so good. Moore capped a brilliant high school career by being named to the McDonald’s All-American game last week, and next year, she will take her talents to Louisville, which played for the NCAA title in 2013.
Of course, Moore still has some time left at Salesian, and still has some big games ahead of her — most notably against sister McDonald’s All-Americans Gabby Green and Mikayla Cowling, who both play for league- and Division IV-rival St. Mary’s-Berkeley. The two teams have already played once this year, and Moore had 23 points and seven rebounds, plus her usual superb all-around game, in a 64-63 come-from-behind win on Jan. 22 at Saint Mary’s College.
The teams will most likely play three more times — once more in league play (Feb. 8 at noon at Albany High School), again in the Tri-County Athletic League-Rock playoffs, and then in the North Coast Section Div. IV postseason. And then, it’s possible the two would meet again in the NorCal playoffs.
And of course, there’s more at stake than rivalry games. Salesian has played for the state championship the last two seasons, and lost both times — last year, by just one point.
If the Pride is going to climb that mountain in 2014, there’s no doubt Moore will carry most of the load. After all, two of the team’s five losses came when Moore was laid low by the flu at the Nike TOC in Arizona (she lost 14 pounds and had to be hospitalized for dehydration). When she’s healthy, Salesian has lost only to NorCal and national powers St. Mary’s-Stockton, Bishop O’Dowd and Carondelet
And speaking of Carondelet, there’s a key link to Moore’s success on the Cougar roster.
As a youngster, Moore had zeroed in on soccer and wanted nothing to do with basketball.
“She would say ‘No thank you, I’m going to be a professional soccer player’,” says Cenne Moore, Mariya’s mom — but then fate, in the form of Natalie and Vince Romeo, stepped in.
“I was pretty focused on soccer,” says Mariya. “She and her dad talked to me several times.”
Finally, Moore gave in, and Natalie and Mariya proved to be a deadly combination Natalie is now Carondelet’s star guard and will play for Nebraska next season. “Playing with her was so much fun” that Moore finally discarded dreams of being the next Mia Hamm and settled on basketball.
The traditional line at this point is “the rest is history,” but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Moore was always tall (she’s about 6-1 now), so naturally she was stuck on the block. But as she got older, she realized she needed to get out on the perimeter, and after her eighth-grade year, she started moving to the outside.
“Right before I left (AAU club) SportStrong, I morphed into a guard. It was difficult and it was frustrating,” says Moore. “I realized how fast the guards were. Before, I had just stood there with my hands in the air.”
But this is where Moore’s relentless work ethic came into play. Unlike many players who find it hard to push through adversity, Moore just buckled down and got better — with a little help from her parents.
“We’re her harshest critics,” says Cenne. “We don’t look at her as a basketball player; we look at her as someone who works hard.”
And work hard she did, playing for several club teams, spending time with individual coaches, and using her natural abilities to just keep getting better and better. Early on, she was very right-hand dominant, and teams would try to make her go left.
“I use my left when I need to,” says Moore, “but no one has really kept me from going right.”
Moore also hasn’t shown three-point range in high school, but expect to see that aspect of her game unveiled at the next level. “She has a very good pull-up jumper,” says Louisville coach Jeff Walz. “And if you have a pull-up jumper, shooting the three is the easy part.”
Walz not only expects Moore to shoot from behind the arc for the No. 5 Cardinals, he expects her to be a contributor next year. “We lose four seniors that play significant minutes,” he says, “and we look for Mariya to compete for minutes next fall.”
“I practice a lot of threes,” says Mariya, “but not in games, because I have other responsibilities.”
Of course, one of those responsibilities is to score (she’s averaging 18.7 points a game), but if Salesian is to keep winning big games, she has to do much more than that. When Pezzola first got a chance to see Moore play, in the summer before her freshman year at Salesian, he was struck by two things: “I was amazed at her court vision, and I also saw that she would make everyone else better.”
And for the Pride, that’s exactly what she does.
“What people might not get is that she is totally unselfish in the concept of the game,” says Pezzola. “She knows there are times when she has to make plays, but her teammates know that if they work hard and run the floor, they’ll get the ball and have a good chance to score.”
“She’s an old-school player,” says Walz. “She’s not going to wow you with flash.”
Still, every opponent knows just who to focus on. Unlike St. Mary’s-Berkeley, say, with its one-two punch of Green and Cowling, or Bishop O’Dowd, with its horde of future Division-I guards, Salesian’s fate depends on Moore’s ability to rise to the occasion. Given her family background, though, it’s no surprise she gladly accepts every challenge.
“We’re very competitive,” says Moore. “Whatever we do in the house, it’s always competitive.”
Both Errol and Cenne Moore come from athletic families, and though Cenne concedes she wasn’t a star basketball player at Kennedy-Sacramento, she too was ready to do whatever was necessary to win.
“I was responsible for running over people,” says Cenne, “and I took my job very seriously.”
Mariya’s younger sister Minyon, a 5-8 sophomore for the Pride, is also unwilling to back down an inch.
“I was always the shortest one and I had to go against Mariya,” Minyon says. “She would always pack my shot and push me. It was to make me better, but one day I’m going to pack her.”
Put all of this together and it’s not really that big a surprise that Moore has become a McDonald’s All-American and put Salesian on the girls basketball map. The Pride may not necessarily win every time out, but Pezzola sums it up best.
“In any game,” he says, “I have the best player.”
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