Each year, Gatorade honors the top high school athletes for exemplary performance on the field and in the classroom. Typically, they have a former winner surprise the new winner at their high school. It’s sort of a tradition. This year’s surprise presenter for the girls basketball player of the year was none other than Maya Moore. Earlier this week, Maya surprised this year’s winner Mercedes Russell.
A two-time Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year, Russell, a 6-foot-6 senior center, averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 70.3 percent from the field this past season, leading the Millers (24-4) to the Class 5A state championship game. A McDonald’s All-American Game selection, a 2013 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America Game invitee and a two-time Class 5A State Player of the Year, Russell was a finalist for the Naismith Girl’s High School Player of the Year Award. She concluded her prep basketball career with 2,273 points, 1,642 rebounds and 562 blocked shots.
In my role as the Media Relations contact for The Hoop Doctors , I had the chance to chat with Maya Moore immediately after surprising Mercedes with this award:
Kevin Burke: Maya, thanks so much for the time. I know that you surprised Mercedes with the award, so tell me, how did you do it and what was her reaction?
Maya Moore: Well, I actually did it in her Psych class. And typical Oregon weather, it was pouring rain so that made it interesting. But I got to her Psych class and walked up behind her because she didn’t see me at first. Then she turned around and saw me and said, “Oh, hi!” And I was like “Hi!” back. Then I said “I’m here to see Mercedes Russell because I hear she won the Gatorade girls basketball player of the year award.” (Laughs) But it was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it and she was happy too.
Kevin Burke: What does this award mean to you as a former winner?
Maya Moore: Oh, it means a great deal. It’s a phenomenal award because not only does Gatorade honor great athletes, but more importantly, it recognizes that they are also taking what they do in the classroom seriously as well. It’s a great traditional and I’m honored to have been a part of it.
Kevin Burke: Let’s go back to your UConn days for a second. You are one of the most decorated college ball players, regardless of gender, of all-time. You had an undefeated season, Player of the Year awards, championships, the list goes on and on. Is there one moment that sticks out above the rest to you?
Maya Moore: Wow, that’s tough because all of those you just mentioned mean a lot to mean and I have great memories of each of them. I would say the friendships that I made with my teammates is something I will always cherish. I still talk to a lot of them still and they mean a lot to me. Obviously all of these are special to me but it’s tough to choose. But I will say that the first championship was special.
Kevin Burke: Now, I went to UConn as well and I know how important basketball is there. When you were there, Kemba Walker was also receiving a lot of attention too as the men won a championship. Who ran the campus: you or Kemba?
Maya Moore: (Laughs) you know, the great thing about everyone on campus is that they didn’t necessarily choose. The students are fans of both programs so everyone was just as happy for us as they were for the men. So it was never a competition of sorts.
Then I asked Maya what the toughest part of her transition from college to the WNBA was. We have that audio and a few more questions here: