Moriah Jefferson as much a portion of UConn'south success as anyone

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Source:   —  April 03, 2016, at 1:18 AM

As a recruit, readying to speak in person with Geno Auriemma for the first time, Jefferson listened as friends asked if she was nervous about the encounter.

Moriah Jefferson as much a portion of UConn'south success as anyone

In one sense, Moriah Jefferson is a curious candidate to embody why the Univ of CT women'south basketball team continues to create and accumulate history at a pace unlike nearly anything else in sports.

As a recruit, readying to speak in person with Geno Auriemma for the first time, Jefferson listened as friends asked if she was nervous about the encounter. It struck her as an odd question. She was just going to be talking to someone about basketball, a sport she'd played her whole waking life, minus maybe two weeks many years earlier when she quit in protest after her dad told her she couldn't play in leagues against boys any longer.

She was comfortable talking basketball. She didn't know sufficient about CT to be nervous talking to Auriemma, who's reigned over a basketball dynasty for more years than Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon ruled in total as emperors.

"To be honest, I didn't know anything about UConn," Jefferson said. "I knew nothing about the school, I didn't know anything about the history. I'd seen one or two games, but I really only watched the NBA. I didn't really look college basketball at all."

She still hasn't seen many competitive college games, at minimum not in person. Jefferson is two wins far from completing the same perfectly unprecedented college career as classmate Breanna Stewart: four years, four championships (the same is true for Morgan Tuck, although injury kept her out for all but a handful of games during the second of those four title runs).

Twice a first-team All-American, Jefferson isn't below any radar. She isn't obscured by Stewart. Yet Stewart'south deserved heritage inevitably makes Jefferson the "and" in the pairing, just as Lou Gehrig'south title comes after the "and" that follows Babe Ruth'south title in most any context. It's nonetheless impossible to realize why the current team dominates to the extent it does, why it's on the verge of doing something that even the CT teams that came before could not, without appreciating a point guard who sets the pace on both ends of the court.

"I know Breanna Stewart is fantastic," Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. "I mean, I've seen it in person her freshman year in the final. But Moriah Jefferson is just as necessary to that ball club as Breanna Stewart is. I just like watching them play on TV because I look Moriah, the kid is everywhere. She'll running that thing right down your throat for a layup. She'll dish it out to the shooters, and then as soon as they score, she'south picking the ball back up [defensively]. She's remarkable."

Which begins to clarify why she's the embodiment of a program'south success at minimum as much as Stewart, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi or anyone else. Jefferson didn't grow up seeking to be a portion of Connecticut'south history, but her legend is why it exists. CT doesn't win the way it does because it gets the best talent. It wins the way it does because the players who go there obtain so much better.

The games see simple because that process frequently isn't.

Few stepped further out of their consolation zone than Jefferson. A scorer asked to play point guard. A Texan shivering through CT winters. A homeschooled learner on a campus of tens of thousands. A flash of speed told to unhurried down.

There isn't a geographic blueprint for dynasty. There hasn't been one since the locally sourced Huskies won their first national title in one thousand nine hundred ninety-fifth and soon added a recruiting class that included N Carolina'south Shea Ralph, presently an helper coach who'south instrumental in recruiting and mentoring Jefferson out of Texas.

There isn't a physical blueprint. CT has size, specifically Stewart'south blend of inches and skills, but it isn't the biggest team in the country.

The commonality, one Auriemma contends is in increasingly brief supply as entitlement grows, is players who process a message that's a disconnect for others. Everything that worked for them to that point, everything that landed them on Connecticut'south radar in the first place?

That won't be excellent enough. Their way, a way that never failed them or failed to earn praise, won't be good enough.

Jefferson mightn't have known Carla Berube from Asjha Jones, but she understood that message.

"She was very confident in herself," Auriemma recalled of that first extended conversation. "I don't wish to declare shy or introverted -- or extroverted; she just came across as someone confident and sure of herself and sure of what she wanted...

"She wasn't bragging about anything. She wasn't acting love she'd it all figured out. At the same time, she wasn't acting scared."

So she chose a space that'd see at her greatest strength on a basketball Ct and tell her why it wasn't good enough.

Jefferson does so many things well. She's an efficient 3-point shooter who seldom forces a shot. She averages fewer than two turnovers per game and owns both the program'south all-time assists record and three of its seven most prolific seasons in assists. Still, her defining trait is and always will be her speed. She appears to play at a speed those around her reach only when we quick forward through parts of recorded games.

Univ of WA All-American Kelsey Plum hopes to play in the national championship game that could also comprise Connecticut. Should she face Jefferson, she won't necessity a scouting report. The two played together with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Basketball each of the past two summers.

"She'south got to be the fastest person in college basketball," Plum said about Jefferson. "Trying to chase her around screens, it'south not a ton of fun. She's phenomenal... When you look her play, and then you guard her -- you might as well keep Icy Hot on your feet. I'd obtain to practice like twenty minutes earlier ... to stretch because when the ball is rolled out [she'south going all out].

"You've definitely got to tie your laces a little tighter."

That's Jefferson now. But just as a race car'south ideal speed isn't necessarily what the engine will authorize without plowing into a wall, there is such a thing as too quick on the basketball court.

"Sometimes I was so quick that I leave my teammates behind me and then I'm going too quick for myself," Jefferson said. "So I'd to memorise how to slow down and create sure the pace of the game is fast but not too fast."

One of former UCLA coach John Wooden'south best known basketball adages was "Be quick, but don't hurry." Auriemma keep his own familiarly sarcastic spin on that.

"With Mo, when she was a freshman," Auriemma said, "It was 'Geez, I wish she just hurried. Because all the other times, she'south out of control.'

"So if we could obtain her to just hurry, we're making progress here. She was so aggressive and so fast and so quick and so everything, but channeling that obviously has been a huge key to her success. That takes time."

Besides expressing some disappointment about her shooting, the product of wavering confidence, Jefferson said she enjoyed a freshman season in which she averaged seventeen minutes. A national championship tends to lend everything a rosy color in hindsight. But it wasn't an simple adjustment. She admitted that much.

"I think both Month and the coaching staff learned how to be patient," Auriemma said of a trait seldom ascribed to him.

There were easier choices. There were places closer to residence in Texas, places closer to her consolation zone. There were programs that'd have keep the ball in her hands right far and turned loose her speed -- to grand effect, too. But one message stopped her in her tracks -- which isn't simple to do.

"You're either going to arrive here, be excellent and win," Jefferson recalled Auriemma telling her. "Or you're going to go somewhere else, be excellent and we're going to beat you."

In one sense, it was a bluff. But the only ones who can call it are the ones who wish to believe it most of all.

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