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    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    Thank you, Maya, for much more than two national championships

    Indianapolis - It would have been nice, sure, to have a few days of three-peat talk. Not to mention the opportunity to be the center of the sports universe for a few days, all Connecticut, all the time: men, women and song.

    So maybe Geno Auriemma was right when he used the term vulnerable. Plenty of time to dissect Notre Dame 72, UConn 63 in the coming days. And while the final score told a depressing tale Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, it was an irrelevant detail in framing Maya Moore's place in the pantheon of prominence in the nation's No. 1 program.

    A big part of Maya Moore's life suddenly announced "here I am on the final day," Sunday night, despite her Maya-esque 36 points. And the Herculean attempt to summarize what she's done and what she's stood for is almost fruitless. Almost. Because maybe we can start here with Geno Auriemma:

    "When I think of Maya Moore," he said, "I'll think about the greatest player in the history of the Big East, maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball. I'm not going to let it be defined by what happened tonight."

    And one last thing for Maya Moore: Thank you.

    Thank you, Maya, for things well beyond the Final Fours and national championships. Thank you for bringing some civility back to sports.

    You remember civility? It went out somewhere around the time the hula hoop did. We know the drill in sports now, where so many combatants dream up ways to celebrate before they work on their craft. Acts of self-indulgence are defended - aw, come on, let these guys have a little fun - making it impossible to hear the truth above the roar.

    Then there's Maya Moore.

    Seriously. This was a kid at the top of the game from the time she arrived. Did she ever, once, call attention to herself? Gyrate unnecessarily? Did she ever mug for the cameras? Maya Moore was like good jazz: smooth, graceful, understated.

    Moore spent the past two weeks getting showered with hosannas. This award, that award. Associated Press, State Farm, Lowe's, Wade Trophy. Moore deflected every bon mot, as if she stood in the passing lane and needed the steal.

    It was her teammates.

    It was Geno Auriemma. It was the other coaches.

    It was exactly how you are supposed to act. Maya Moore illustrated that when you are really good, others will do the talking for you.

    Moore always gave thoughtful answers to questions, even questions that extended beyond basketball. There was no "give the other team credit" and "it really helped our confidence" or "we brought our 'A' game." When the question was asked, there was almost always a pause before something pithy.

    Quite the change from other athletes who think with their mouths or spew clichés like Guinness in an Irish bar.

    Thank you, Maya, for all that.

    Thank you for showing there's still hope even in this NCAA cesspool. And haven't all the stories emanating from Auburn and Ohio State and Nate Miles been so inspiring lately? You go ahead and kill women's basketball all you want. But it had Maya Moore the last four years and that meant it was a better game than yours for reasons many of you wouldn't understand.

    Just when you thought there were no more awards for Moore to win, there she was at halftime of the Texas A&M-Stanford semifinal Sunday night. Moore was presented the "Elite 88" award for having the highest cumulative grade-point average of any other student-athlete in the Final Four.

    All this and she went to school, too.

    Education is part of the college athletic experience, in case you're wondering. Maya Moore (and her teammates) prove it. Every year. Just because we allow the non-thinkers out there to spew their absorbing "who cares" on the subject of academic achievement for athletes doesn't mean education isn't necessary and relevant.

    And so Moore's career ended two wins short of three rings. But her time here will grow and bloom in all of us who enjoyed watching her, all of us who were along for the ride, from Tampa to St. Louis to San Antone to Indy and so many other ports along the way.

    The 2011 season will be dissected more today and in the coming days. But Moore's legacy is beyond the outcome of a game. Maya Moore always said and did the right thing. She was a welcome change to sports. Now she brings it to the WNBA.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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