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As she watched her free-throw attempt bang off the rim, Maya Moore instinctively got irritated. That's the way she always reacts, with good reason. You don't make it to the WNBA -- and you certainly don't earn recognition as one of the greatest players ever in women's college basketball -- without feeling a little ticked off whenever a shot fails to drop through the hoop.

You also don't get to that point by yourself, something Moore has been pondering frequently during her first two weeks with the Lynx. The rookie from Connecticut was reminded of that when she stepped to the line for another free throw early in training camp. The last WNBA ball she had touched was the one her uncle gave her when she was 8, the one she took with her everywhere for the next eight years, while so many people in her life were quietly nurturing both her dreams and the means to achieve them.

After all those years of wishing, it struck Moore that she was finally holding a WNBA ball as a member of the league. And just as her intensely competitive spirit helped put her on that free-throw line, so did the influence of her mother, her extended family, her coaches and her church.

Moore, 21, comes to Minnesota as one of the game's most luminous stars after a record-setting career as a Georgia prep and at UConn. What truly sets her apart is her understanding that greatness did not begin with her alone, and it cannot end with her. Moore's goal is to make it flow through her, to take all the wisdom and guidance she has been given and use her considerable talents to share it with others.

"I've always been surrounded by really great people, which is a blessing," Moore said. "They helped me understand that it's not about me, that it's bigger than me. Learning that from a young age helped me have some clarity about how I need to treat this gift of being in the spotlight.

"I'm here to play basketball, to be a great basketball player. That's what I love. But that's given me the opportunity to have a voice, and I want to use it in a meaningful way."

In the 10 days after the Lynx made Moore the No. 1 pick in April's WNBA draft, they sold more than 250 season tickets to new buyers, including men who never have attended a league game. She became the first women's basketball player to sign with Nike's Jordan Brand. Lynx corporate sponsors and other WNBA teams have asked about building marketing campaigns around her.

Moore recognizes her immense power to draw a wider audience to her sport and wider recognition to female athletes. On the court, she does it with her deft touch passes and deadly three-pointers; off the court, she's just as skilled with her approachability, warmth and humility.

Moore is joining a team already well-stocked with talent. For the Lynx to win at the clip she's used to seeing, she won't have to shoulder the entire load. She can devote her gifts to something bigger than herself -- just the way she prefers.

"From the day we won the [draft] lottery, all the players were texting me," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "They were excited, because they knew who we were picking, and Maya is such a quality person. If she were selfish, it would rub people the wrong way, but she's not.

"Maya will handle herself so well. She is humble and mature beyond her years, and she puts so much on herself to be the best she can be. Her passion for the game, her passion for winning, those things are contagious."

• • •

Moore made her first trip to Target Center on April 13, two days after the draft. At a Timberwolves game that night, Lynx Chief Operating Officer Conrad Smith saw a man make his way over to her.

"He said, 'Maya, I'm coming to a Lynx game because I want to see you play,' " Smith recalled. "This is a guy in his late 30s who went out of his way to come over and talk to her. Her star status coming into the market is phenomenal. But she is committed to her craft off the court, too, and in this market, we're just starting to learn what a wonderful young woman she is."

Basketball has allowed Moore to connect with people on a macro level. During her four years at UConn, her broad range of skills and ability to control a game led the Huskies to a 150-4 record, two NCAA titles, four Final Four berths and frequent appearances on ESPN and other sports networks. Her sport also has given her a platform to influence people in a more personal, direct way, enabling her to pay forward some of the positive reinforcement that helped her refine and pursue her own goals.

Kathryn Moore raised Maya as a single mom, with the support of a loving extended family. The oldest of a posse of cousins, Maya was given responsibility early in life, as well as good examples of how to fulfill it.

After falling in love with basketball at age 8, her competitive nature began to sharpen when she was in middle school. When Moore began thinking about playing in college, her mother urged her to be proactive and make a plan for her future. With Kathryn's guidance, she researched schools, created a résumé and began calling coaches to introduce herself.

Moore's mother did not push her, allowing her to blossom at her own pace.

"I'm not burned out, because I didn't have a personal trainer when I was 7," Moore said. "I played because I loved playing, and I could be a kid until I got to a point where I really wanted to win and be good. And my family had a good, solid foundation in their faith as Christians, which was an atmosphere where you were constantly reminded that you're not as big as you think you are. My identity was always more in my faith than in who I was as a basketball player."

Her identity as a basketball player, though, soon became known across the country. At Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga., just outside Atlanta, Moore carried her team to three state titles and a 125-3 record. She also earned a 4.0 grade-point average, proof that her desire to be the best was not limited to the basketball court.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, a noted perfectionist himself, helped Moore continue exploring just how far she could stretch herself. During Moore's tenure, the Huskies won an NCAA-record 90 games in a row, while she won three Wade Trophies as the top player in women's college basketball.

"She came in with a tremendous reputation, with so much expected of her," Auriemma said. "She wanted to be the person others depended on. She wanted to have an impact on her teammates in every game. And she challenged herself all the time to work harder in class, on the court and off the court.

"The thing Maya does so well is she competes so hard. Her attitude, the things she does, those all rub off on the people around her -- and she's able to sustain it every day."

• • •

All that seriousness might create the impression that Moore is a joyless grind. Because she truly loves what she does, she enjoys having a good laugh with her teammates; because she has an appreciation for her many blessings, she enjoys spreading uplifting messages to her fans.

Though Moore describes herself as a private person, she embraces her public duties. When she was young, she looked up to players such as Lisa Leslie and Cynthia Cooper. She feels a responsibility to be a similar role model for other girls and to do so in a consistent, authentic way.

Already, Moore has spoken to a group of Twin Cities students, and she gave every person in line a smile and a kind word while signing autographs after the Lynx's preseason game against Indiana last week. That included several teenage boys who had seen her play on ESPN and waited patiently to get her signature.

"I realize how much of an impact that has on a young person's life, and I think it's cool to be able to do that," she said. "I take a lot of pride in it. I don't want to be that person that breaks a kid's heart. It's an opportunity, and it's satisfying to be a source of good."

It takes a special kind of humility to achieve all Moore has and still seek to learn from others. As a youngster, Moore said, she felt like a blank canvas, soaking up spiritual nourishment from her church and taking advice from her AAU coaches on how to become a leader.

She is back in that position now, trying to stave off frustration as she adjusts to a new league. Reeve said that when Moore stumbles on something, she goes to work on it immediately and doesn't stop until she has mastered it. Her teammates, excited to see what they can do with her on the floor, are eager to help Moore get acclimated and willing to carry heavier loads themselves while she breaks in.

"She's very advanced," said Lynx forward Charde Houston, who played with Moore at UConn in 2007-08. "You can show her a play one time, and she pretty much has it. From Day 1 in camp, you see her, you hear her, you feel her presence -- and you don't get that from a lot of rookies. She is a leader in the making, and given time, she's going to be great."

Playing with athletes such as Seimone Augustus, Candice Wiggins and Lindsay Whalen will take some of the pressure off of Moore early in the season. The Lynx, mindful of the huge demands she faces, are judiciously managing her time to ensure her game is not compromised by her promotional duties.

Moore is not concerned about making it all fit together. Her previous experience has taught her that the effort, responsibility and commitment she's accustomed to giving can keep her right where she belongs: as a vital part of something bigger than herself.

"I know the fans here are desperate for something to cheer for, and that makes me excited," she said. "I like to make history. I like to do things that have never been done before. We did a lot of that at UConn. I might as well keep it up."