Maya Moore leaving mark on Chinese basketball

Maya Moore has excelled everywhere she’s played, winning championships from college to the WNBA and Europe. Now she’s leaving her mark on the Chinese women’s basketball league.

Averaging 45 points a game for the Shanxi Flame, Moore has helped bring new fans to the women’s game in a basketball crazed nation.

“They show maybe five NBA games a week here,” Moore told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “They get a good amount of coverage and people love it. We are starting to get a little more interest about our game.”

The NBA long has seen China as a place for huge growth.

It was evident at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with the basketball games sold out and the contest between the U.S. men and China having nearly 100 million viewers. With Europe still feeling the effects of the financial downturn, China’s competitive salaries and shorter season have made it one of the top destinations for the world’s elite women basketball players.

The former UConn star is earning mid-six figures, which is on a par with European salaries. While most European leagues go from October to May, China only plays till February. This will give Moore time to rest before the Minnesota Lynx open training camp in May. It also will provide the young face of women’s basketball the opportunity to participate at the NBA All-Star game in February and be around for the women’s Final Four.

Besides Moore, the talent is improving throughout the league. Tamika Catchings, Elizabeth Cambage, Sophia Young and Jayne Appel are all playing this year. Swin Cash has played there in the past.

“I think it’s been a good introduction for a lot of the fans seeing some of the Olympic level women over here,” Moore said. “To see the talent it’s been I think very surprising thing for the fans. Interest will continue to spark more of a demand for players and the basketball level will rise. This area of the world will continue to want basketball even more, elevating that market.”

The WNBA has taken notice of the recent boom in China.

“We know the sport of basketball is on the rise in China and the WNBA has already had great success on the international stage,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “I am really encouraged that there are now many more millions of people around the globe _ including China _ who know what the WNBA is all about. We’ve exposed more people to the game, to the players, to the story both on and off the court … and this will only help grow our league both domestically and abroad.”

While Moore has definitely brought interest with her play, Catchings has tried to mentor her teammates.

“I think my approach is probably different then the approach of some of the younger players,” Catchings said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “I feel like my job is to teach my teammates how I play and how to have fun doing it.”

It didn’t take long for Moore to endear herself to her new team. Moore, the first woman basketball player to be signed by the Jordan brand, gave a pair of yellow and red sneakers to each of her teammates.

Then she started playing and the team only has lost once since. Moore introduced herself to the Chinese fans almost immediately with a 60-point performance in her third game, which just happened to be nationally televised.

“The game was against one of the army teams,” Moore said. “They don’t have a foreigner and they are very prideful. The first quarter I was in a zone feeling good. I hit seven 3’s in the first quarter. It gave me a jump start on the 60.”

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