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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

UConn legend making wishes come true

Dating back to her UConn days, Maya Moore has always carried herself in a way where she was fully aware of the impact she could have both on and off the court. However, her generous spirit went to a new level thanks to a partnership with with 4-foot-9 basketball junkie and Lupus patient Ariya Smith with the Make-A-Wish Foundation which turned into a segment on ESPN's "My Wish" project
Earlier this week the emotional video of Ariya Smith and her family coming to Minneapolis for the Minnesota-Seattle game aired on ESPN bringing tears to many people's eyes including Moore herself especially with Smith began to cry when a video of Moore inviting the Smith family to Minneapolis came across the computer screen at the practice of Smith's basketball team.

Moore reflected on her interaction with Smith after Friday's Western Conference WNBA All-Star Game practice at Mohegan Sun Arena. 

"We surprised her. She had no idea that was coming,," Moore said. "That (ESPN segment) the first time I got to see her reaction on the video I sent her and I was teary eyed watching it and how much it meant to her. I try to talk about being a role model and not knowing who you are impacting. That was such an encouragement for me to know that I don't have nearly the challenges the she has to face physically with her health at her age but to know that I can help make an impact on her life, keep her motivated in some aspect is really, really cool. On the flip side, she inspires me with her story and her
love of the game, her challenges.

"All she wants to do is play. She gets the news that her body is going through all of these things and she asked 'when can I play again? Come on, you are amazing with the love of the game.' It was really cool especially right around my birthday too, it was a really cool treat."

The partnership between Smith and Moore came via the Make-A-Wish Foundation when Smith expressed an interest in meeting her Moore, her basketball idol.

"I've been watching her a while," Ariya Smith told ESPN. "She's just an amazing player. She's like the girl Michael Jordan."

Like so many of these Make-A-Wish stories, the athlete turns a simple request into so much more.

One of the more compelling stories to come out of this year's Travelers Championship was defending champion Kevin Streelman inviting the family of Ethan Couch, a 14-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor, to the annual PGA tour stop in Cromwell even though he had already fulfilled Ethan's wish of going to the Masters. Listening to Streelman talk, it would not be a reach to suggest the
partnership meant more to him emotionally than anybody else involved. Moore has similar sentiments.

"I was presented with the opportunity and once they told me more about Ariya there is no way I am going to be a part of this because it is too cool and what better way to use my gift and my platform than to do something like we just did with Make-A-Wish," Moore said. "They have been doing this for years and it is an awesome thing to use sports to bring people together and celebrate the really awesome things in life to celebrate that you might not get a chance to see.

"It is just an every-day mindset I try to live with, that if there is a way I can help, it makes sense and it can happen I want to try to make it happen. This one was just on camera but I don't get to do things quite as special as I did in Ariya very often."

Even if the fans turning out to Mohegan Sun Arena during all-star weekend hadn't seen former UConn star Stefanie Dolson before, it wouldn't take much effort to pick out the second-year Washington Mystics center and first time all-star thanks to her rather colorful head of hair.

When she made her first time back to Connecticut as a professional during the 2014 she has started the process of turning her brown hair to various shades but most notably purple. With each passing week and month, her hair color continues to become more vibrant.

"I have grown to love it," Dolson said. "If I go back to brown, it would be so sad."

The idea of going with purple hair first popped into her head when she was at UConn. However, UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey did not share her enthusiasm for that move so Dolson waited until she became a professional player to begin experimenting with the color of her hair.

"I wanted this back in college," Dolson said. "It was a quick joking thing but CD (Dailey) was like 'no.' I asked her if I could shave my head. There was a style where I can shave half of my head but that didn't really work out."

However, don't think that Dolson bypassing the move to purple hair held her personality back during her college days.

"I expressed myself plenty of UConn too," Dolson said with a laugh.

"My personality is out there, people already stare at me because I am big but it is just fun. It is its own accessory for sure."

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