We've talked previously about how the 2011-12 UConn women's team could be better than last season's version, even without Maya Moore, the best player in school history. The depth and experience at other positions and the country's best recruiting class certainly eases the transition.
But depending on who you ask, it's almost as if Moore hasn't left Storrs at all. Freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who bears a striking resemblance all the way down to the No. 23 on her jersey (it's more than an homage to Maya), enters the season with lofty expectations. The question, of course, is where do expectations and reality intersect.
Coach Geno Auriemma, as always, is quick to put things into perspective.
"Kaleena isn’t going to be Maya Moore," he said, according to the Hartford Courant. "What’s funny is, people that are making those comparisons, well, 99 percent of them have never seen her in a basketball uniform. I discovered how ridiculous this was when we were in Europe [in August] and people were telling us how great our team was because they were looking at the stat sheet [from UConn's exhibition games against club teams]."
That's a fantastic point and one we're certainly guilty of. We've made judgments on the upcoming season based on how the team performed in Europe because, well, we weren't there to see them play with our own eyes.
Auriemma remains unimpressed.
"We were playing against kids that were great cooks, great at gardening," he continued. "They could grow anything in their backyards and could cook it up like nobody’s business. But they weren’t good basketball players. Now. the average fan looks at Kaleena’s numbers there and says, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ When someone makes a decision on a player they have never seen, I would guess there is a pretty good chance they’ve passed the realm from fan to fanatic."
It also has something to do with Mosqueda-Lewis being the nation's top high school recruit and coming to one of the best programs in the country where she won't spend a season or two watching -- she'll see plenty of playing time on an already-loaded squad. While comparisons to Moore are a stretch -- and unfair -- they're also inevitable when you're playing for a program with fans who lean more toward fanatical than fair-weather.
"It would unfair to her to think that she can be Maya Moore. that she will lead the team to four national championships, score 3,000 points, nine Wade Trophies, be Player of the Year 12 times. It’s just not going to happen.
We're not sure anyone truly believes any of that. Because no one figured Moore would do that either; instead, the comparisons have more to do with their styles, their on-court disposition, their pedigree and, well, that they both play for UConn. Auriemma is willing to hedge his bet, though.
"But if it does, I will be the first one to say, ‘Damn, that was unbelievable because I didn’t think Maya could do it. The fact its only been done once in how long makes it hard to impose those standards on someone else."