Moriah Jefferson is back to wreak havoc on the WNBA court, and we are here for it! After a knee injury forced this dynamic, small but shifty point guard out of play for the past few years — the former UConn standout and No. 2 draft pick who won four national championships — has returned for the Dallas Wings. Her story has come full circle: she grew up in Glenn Heights, Texas, and her court is now back in session.
“She’s excited, energetic. She plays in an important position at the point guard, one that we really didn’t have last year. So having her on the floor is an extreme upgrade from a year ago. Moriah is going to give us that leadership and stability.”said Wings coach Brian Agler.
Prior to joining the WNBA, Jefferson ran the point for UConn women’s basketball team. There she concluded her career ranked first in assists, second in steals, and as a two-time winner of the Nancy Lieberman Award. Then, she was drafted second overall by the San Antonio Stars in the 2016 WNBA draft, before eventually making her way to the Wings, where we expect to see her fly this year.
It’s early in the season, and there are some kinks to work out in her game. But we’re covering her now, because we know what she’s capable of, and we have a feeling that by the end, everyone’s going to be left wondering “Where did she come from!?”
So today, we’ll take a look at one of the best point guards in the history of women’s basketball. We’ll explore Moriah Jefferson’s records, career statistics, her strengths and weaknesses, and the impact she’s having both on and off the court.
Plus, you might find out a few surprises along the way — like that while Moriah used to watch Kobe for inspiration, Gianna Bryant actually reached out to Moriah about her skills. Let’s get after it!
Now this might throw you for a loop: Moriah started out playing soccer. As she tells it, “That was my first passion. But, my allergies made it almost impossible for me to play for a long time outside, so I started playing sports inside and that’s when I found basketball.” Bless those allergies, folks.
After making the switch, because of the flexibility of her home-school schedule, Moriah was able to work on her basketball skills, training for a few hours most days. She even dribbled while watching television, keeping her eyes on the screen instead of on the ball.
She also got plenty of practice playing with her brothers and their friends, who she kept up with until one of them eventually unceremoniously knocked her down. And her parents, fearing for her safety, told her it was time for a change.
“I played boys basketball until I was 12 and basically my teammates became brothers to me as well. It affected my style of play; I developed a more ‘street’ game, played a little more physical because I played ball with the boys for so long. I really didn’t have a choice. There were girls teams I could have played on. But my preference was always to play with the guys. I wanted to play on the same team my brothers played on. And I scored a lot on those teams; I was one of the stars on those teams.” she said.
She also started analyzing the game at an early age. “She studie[d] the game. My kids [those she coached] would break down film of whoever was their favorite player. Hers was Kobe,” Robin Jefferson said. “Mo would sit in the game room for hours breaking him down, and then she’d go outside for two more hours to perfect what she’d seen. And then she’d ask me to take her to the recreation center so she could try it out on someone.”
And Moriah built out her left hand in her early years, which is something a lot of players later struggle with. Because her father, Lorenza, suggested she play just with her left hand, when coaches said they could handle her going to her right.
All of those fundamentals gave Moriah a strong start which she was able to build on as a springboard in college. At Uconn she learned to control the speed of her game, and her team’s game.
UConn assistant Shea Ralph said of Moriah, “[Her AAU team] pressed constantly, like speed racers up and down the court, and that’s what she grew used to. And being so quick with the ball and having always been able to go by people so easily, that was all she did. She didn’t have to change; it all worked for her.” That was something they went to work on together.
“The coaches have been working with me on my stop and go, on getting myself into the small creases of the defense and finishing or dishing off to my teammates. It’s much more physical but its OK. I’m learning to adjust my speed again. My assist-to-turnover ratio has been fine. My field goal shooting from two is starting to come along and I’ve been shooting fine from three.” Moriah shared.
Confidence was another building block that was added and cemented at Uconn. “A couple of years ago we were sitting in meetings with the players and talking to her about, you know, teams had stopped guarding her at the 3-point line daring her to shoot because she didn’t have her confidence and ability to do that,” said Lobo.
And the results of her progress were evident. She got better at shooting the ball—first the three, which she elevated to a 49.6 percent rate. And then her midrange game, hitting nearly 67 percent from two – efficiency usually found only among bigs who get most of their shots on put backs and dunks. Moriah was able to hit those numbers because of her speed.
And finally, Uconn runs a situational, read-and-react system that forces players to understand defensive schemes in real time and improvise, which helped set her up for her next step in the WNBA.
In her first year in the league in 2016, after being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, while with the San Antonio Stars, she immediately became a starter. There, she put on spectacular performances, including scoring a game-winning put-back to beat the buzzer as part of her career-high 31 points to help San Antonio defeat the Indiana Fever 87-85 in an overtime game. She started all 34 games, and averaged 13.9 points and 4.2 assists on her way to making the all-rookie team.
Unfortunately, following that year, she had a rocky road due to a knee injury, surgery, and subsequent recovery, that plagued her time with the Las Vegas Aces. In May of 2019 she was acquired by the Dallas Wings in the Liz Cambage trade. And in February 2020, she re-signed with the Wings on a multi-year deal that shows a ton of confidence in her.
“Moriah is one of the top young point guards in the league when healthy,” Dallas Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb said in a statement announcing Jefferson’s deal. “After staying home this winter and working on rehabbing and strengthening her knee, I believe she will return to her pre-injury level of play. I think Moriah can be a leader for our organization for a long time to come and I’m excited to have her wear a Wings jersey in front of her hometown fans.”
Meanwhile, Moriah has set out to prove he’s right. She’s back on the court, and in charge of corralling and leading a very young team. “We’re a young team, obviously, so they’re looking for me to be in a leadership role,” Moriah said. “Especially as a point guard, you have to be that coach on the floor, so [Dallas coach Brian Agler] is going to lean on me to make sure that I’m keeping my teammates focused.”
She scored 13 points (75.0% FG) in the win against New York, and her final point total marked the first time since August of 2018 she scored in double figures. And that’s the kind of double trouble we like.
Moriah’s name is synonymous with blinding speed and remarkably accurate finishing. And, since high school, she’s had a handful of accompanying go-to moves in her bag. Here are a few of her defaults.
This one is surely Kobe inspired, and just an all-around smart move for a guard who is known for being deadly on the drive. With her speed, Moriah is able to fake the drive, stop on a dime and pop up mid-post.
This is part of Moriah’s flash that makes us love her so much. She gets so many steals, and when she feels the defense is right on top of her, rather than force the finish, she gets the shot off with flare. She shows the ball, allowing them to overcommit, and quickly reverses to put it in.
Moriah has been doing this one since all the way back in high school. She fakes the shot, hesitates for a second, pushes the ball out over the opposite side and leaves the defender in the dust. I’ve almost never seen a defender not bite when she pulls this one – it’s an ankle confuser.
Another move that Kobe inspired, Moriah seamlessly executes the pump fake reverse spin jump shot. Basically with her back to the basket, she fakes a shot to the right by bringing the ball above her head and her body slightly up, then quickly spins to her left and gets the shot off – a quick turn and pop. She manages to get this off over people nearly a foot taller than her.
Moriah likes to pick off the first pass. This helps make her defense her offense, and allows her tons of fast breaks, where she’s able to finish with both the left and the right. Also, she’s a threat as shot blocker, even for big post players, which you don’t expect to say about someone her height.
With or without the screen to kick off the play, Moriah can shred between two defenders and pirouette through the lane. And, she can finish – often times with an underhand shot to keep the ball safe in front of her, despite defenders having height on her.
Want to see her signature moves in action?
Moriah is ridiculously entertaining to watch, and is as unique as she is talented. “She does everything a point guard is supposed to do, but no one’s really seen anything quite like her.” according to VICE. Here are a few of her best highlight videos.
OK 2:27 you can see the Kobe all over her. The spin and pop is just beautifully executed.
Would she beat Breanna Stewart 1:1? She says yes.
She’s smart about favoring the foul line, and foul line elbows for the pull-up. And with her speed, and the way she gets her shoulders down and in front of her, she’s able to blow by defenders for the easy layup all too often.
LOL! The way she weaves through the defense (almost every single defender on the court) at 1:36, plus hits the finish, is insane. And the game winner in-air put back at the end is reason enough to watch.
The block at 2:50 though! Shortest person on the court stopping the center big. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do anything you want to.
Moriah is a true coach on the floor, keeping her teammates focused, driven with her competitive nature, and on-the-move with her speed. Here a few of the most significant ways Moriah stands out when running the point.
Moriah relies on her speed, quickness, and feel, instead of strength and size. And her main asset on the floor is her elusiveness, something that she attributes to her early days on the soccer fields in Texas. “I’m shifty on the court and that’s because I grew up playing soccer, it’s those kinds of movements that help me get past defenders in basketball.”
All those years playing with guys larger than her paid off. Because she is fearless, she’s able to play with control in the most uncontrolled moments. “She just played harder than anyone else,” said teammate Kayla McBride.
Moriah has clawed her way back to the game, despite a number of setbacks: the death of her beloved AAU coach Coach Marques “Mudd” Jackson; being away from home for eight months out of the year for two years in Turkey; knee pain and a surgery; and a worldwide pandemic just as she was preparing to take the court. No easy feat, but she didn’t give up.
Moriah has always brought strategy and cleverness to the game. As told by Dan Hughes the Stars coach, “We can play to her as a set-up three-point shooter as well as for the things she can do on the [dribble]. She’s a complete package. From the first day she’s thrown the ball to the right people and has managed the game. I don’t like my point guards constantly looking over at me [for help]. I like the ones who think the game and she does that. I want her running our club.”
Though her injury hindered her progression physically, she dedicated herself to breaking down film and studying personnel. “All these point guards that I have to guard,” Jefferson said, “I feel like I know them even more than I did before I was injured.” All of this mental preparation means she’s ready to react to any action on the floor. She knows how to play players, and how to mentally beat them.
“Defense wins championships.” said Moriah. And she would know. At the beginning of her famed college career, she started by making her defense her offense, and built up her confidence that way. As just one example, in the American Athletic Conference championship game against South Florida, she was appointed the task of guarding Courtney Williams.
“That was leadership right there. I’m going to take it on my shoulders to prevent the best player on the other team from even touching the basketball,” said Rebecca Lobo, a current ESPN analyst. “While she’s become more vocal it seems throughout the course of her career, she says so much just by her style of play.” Today, Moriah remains a defensive threat, rarely getting caught flat footed. She knows it’s a game of angles and inches.
Moriah is an incredible player. But like all players, she does have a few areas of opportunity, especially as she works her way back from being out for a few years.
Because Moriah is in charge of setting the tone for her team, she could be more aggressive offensively. She needs to reinstate herself as an attacking player and a scoring threat. This stood out particularly in the first quarter of the recent Connecticut Suns match on June 26th as a big need. In order to create easy open outside shots for her team members, she needs the defense to think she’s going to shoot or drive to get her own bucket.
On the drive by faking a shot with the hesi, she might be able to lose the defense, or she could kick out to Arike a few times training them to expect it, and then seize the opportunity the third time. Her shiftiness can definitely come in handy here. Alternatively, with the way Arike is able to use her physicality to drive, the two could play off each other, setting up Moriah to hit the threes she’s capable of knocking down.
After coming back from injury, Moriah needs to get back to her game speed. Certainly she’s in shape, but she’s not in the other-worldly Moriah shape. This will certainly come with time, and she’s the first to admit she’s a little rusty while demanding more of herself.
Coming off hard screens, when she’s being posted up, has always presented a bit of a problem. She knows she can sit low right against the big, and try to push them back with her hands up so they can’t get the ball. Or she can play the front, dead on, with arms up, knowing she’s got the help side defense to come to her rescue. But the help side defense needs to be there to back her up (and they haven’t always been this season), so this will always be an area she’ll have to react smartly.
In order to help maximize her teammates’ strengths, Moriah will need to harness every tool in her toolkit. While she always leads by example, this year, she’d do well to be more outspoken on and off the court.
It’s hard to step back onto any court. It’s even harder to do it after years of not fully playing ball, among a sea of the most talented lady hoopers in the world. Moriah knows exactly how to execute, and she can do it with finesse. However, so far this season, it looks like she’s in her head: she’s her own worst enemy right now.
A great example of this was in the Suns game where her and Arike had a two on one break away. Arike brought the ball down the court, and then dished it to Moriah setting her up for a shot. Moriah made a read that the defense was taller than her and had nearly caught up, and rather than risk the shot, sent it back with a quick pass to Arike for her to finish the lay up. The problem was Arike missed it because she was exhausted, and the pass gave the defense even more time to recover. Moriah knew Arike had executed on the last three plays and needed time to rest, and she also knows one hundred ways she could have turned that play into a bucket for herself. But it appeared she felt more confident in Arike finishing.
Moriah should work on building the techniques to hold the right thoughts in her head to set her up for success, perhaps meditation. For example, repeating someone’s name or humming a song, could help control her thoughts.
A drill she could use to practice this mind control, if she’s not already doing it, is called “crazy eights.” It’s a series of eight progressively further shots from the basket in a straight line back, and you have to make them all in a row, or you start all over again. Regularly overcoming this type of mental challenge and pressure, will help her believe in her tremendous abilities again, sooner rather than later.
Her persistent injury might be a factor in some of this self-doubt. So what’s really the scoop with that knee?
Moriah missed 13 games during the 2017 season due to a right knee injury which resulted in surgery on the cartilage. Then, after rehabilitating for nine months and missing the first 17 games of the 2018 season, she returned to practice in June 2018. But she sat out the 2019 season due to a temporary suspension and to continue rehabbing, to ensure her knee would be 100% healthy moving forward, which was one of the hardest things she’s had to do.
Now, she feels great. She’s been doing strength training for hamstrings and quads, lots of agility work and spending time in the weight room.
“It’s been a long process for me. Over the past three years – a lot of people don’t know about my injury; I played hurt my entire second year. I had to finally sit down and do my rehab and make sure my knee is right. When you sit out six or seven months, there will be some rust to get out in the beginning. It won’t feel the way it did before. You have to let the game come to you. But I’m good. I’m grinding every single day. I’m going to do well.” said Moriah to Sports Illustrated.
On July 26, 2020, Moriah Jefferson returned to the court for the first time since August of 2018. “I’m full-go now,” Jefferson said in a phone interview. “For the rest of my career, I’ll always be doing maintenance, making sure I’m icing, keeping my hips and hamstrings and quads strong. But as far as everything on the court, I’m full-go, no limitations — cutting, running, sprinting, defense, pretty much everything is good. It’s good to finally be back healthy, and now it’s just about waiting for the season to start.”
So bearing her basketball evolution, strengths and weaknesses, and comeback from injury in mind, how can a team best limit her impact?
When it comes to the recent Wings win over New York, head coach Brian Agler said “I think she [Moriah Jefferson] set the tone for the game both with her ability to break the defense down and to keep pressure on the ball. We are starting to see the Moriah that I remember coaching against, and that is a good thing for us” according to the Dallas Wings Insider. Unfortunately, that’s not a good thing for opposing teams.
Defense will do best by ensuring Moriah doesn’t get into her offensive rhythm in the first quarter. By slowing down the speed of the game and controlling it, the defense can force Moriah into more shots outside of the arc. Basically, you want to shut down the number of early fast breaks she gets, and cut off her passing lane (for now anyway, since she’s always looking for an assist option).
She is likely to weave through top traps, but by putting just one strong man on her, who can stay attached, get a hand in the passing lane, and keep a hand in the shot pocket (left hand since she’s a right handed shooter) you can do a bit of damage.
When she starts to drive more, as she no doubt will the further we get into the 2020 season, give her a little bit of space, about a step back, and challenge her to shoot. When she comes at you, force her to the baseline with quick feet movement. Make sure you’ve got your most agile and quickest defender on her.
Now that you know what Moriah’s been up to on the court. Let’s dive into what she’s up to IRL.
Off the court Moriah enjoys being creative and escaping outdoors to recharge. “I really love art and drawing,” Jefferson said. “I picked it up from an uncle who would always draw for us. I love nature too. I love going to places where you can rock-climb, where there are lakes. And any time I have some free time, I like to go. It’s peaceful.”
When she’s not in Picasso mode, she’s spending time investing in the youth in her community — specifically young girls. Today, Moriah trains girls in her hometown for free at the same recreation center where she played growing up, Teen Vogue reports. One teen she’s mentored for years has just turned 15, and is small in stature but dedicated to developing her game. Sound familiar?
“Anybody can do anything if you put the right amount of work into it. Being a woman of my stature, it’s not easy getting to the WNBA…if you put in the effort and you give 100% then you can make it no matter what anybody tells you.”said Moriah Jefferson.
But Moriah’s impact isn’t just limited to her hometown. As it turns out, all the way in California Gigi Bryant was watching her highlight videos. As Moriah tells it:
“Yeah, I’ve known Kobe for four or five years. I got the chance to meet him while at UConn. I actually met Gigi first. She watched my highlights and reached out to me on Twitter then I met her at a UConn game, then met Kobe.
I would watch his highlights growing up and then years later he’s watching my highlights from UConn and when I got into the league. Imagine that! Me watching him playing and her watching me and then reaching out to me. It was a surreal moment.”
One can only imagine, there are tons of other women across the world, inspired by this feisty, persistent point guard. No doubt, Moriah is using her platform and the challenges she’s faced to help lift other girls and improve women’s basketball along the way.
After signing a multiyear contract with the Dallas Wings this offseason for three years and full protection, Moriah is ready to go. “I can’t wait,” Jefferson said. “If you know me as a person, I’m super competitive with absolutely everything. … I’m really missing that part, the competition, being around my teammates and having that chemistry and that fun locker room talk and just hanging out. So I’m so excited for the whole thing.”
This will be her first full season of WNBA play since 2016, and more rests on her shoulders than just her individual performance. Even though she’s only four years removed from college, she’s one of the team’s older players. So she’ll have to guide the three rookies (Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Tyasha Harris) and the four players entering their sophomore seasons as their veteran point guard.
Fittingly, Jefferson is much more concerned about turning the Wings into a winning franchise than any personal goals. But the team has not had a winning record since it moved to Dallas in 2016.
With Skylar Diggins-Smith also missing the 2019 season, the Wings went 10-24 before adjusting their roster in the offseason, trading Diggins-Smith and keeping only five players. They brought on UConn alum Katie Lou Samuelson, whom Jefferson played a year with in college, and former Notre Dame star Arike Ogunbowale, who averaged 19.1 points and finished second in last year’s rookie of the year vote.
Speaking about her retooled team, Moriah said, “I really like our team. We’re young. We’re very fast. Everybody’s really hungry and excited to get on the court, so I think that we’re going to mesh well together.”
And that hungriness has led the team to secure a few early wins. As recounted by The Next, “The Dallas Wings, 2-3 this season, have displayed an admirable ability to come back…But the young team still has to learn how to close out wins, falling short on Tuesday to the Chicago Sky, 82-79. In this league, you have to be able to close out games if you want to make the playoffs and advance…Not only do they start missing shots, but they allow the opposing team to get what they want early and build a lead.”
But Moriah knows what adjustments she needs to make. “I’ve had some experience in the league, obviously been out with injuries and things like that, but just being that person on the court that can set ourselves up to make the right play at the right time,” Moriah said. “Obviously having Arike on the ball a lot, she’s starting to get double-teamed and triple-teamed. So for me it’s gonna be getting into that paint area and dishing to my teammates, making sure they can be as successful as they can be. Make sure I’m bringing that leadership on and off the court.” reports The Next.
And that’s all we can ask from our fearless leader: to ensure her team learns from each game and gets better every time they step on the court. No one puts defensive pressure on the ball like Moriah Jefferson, no one can get out in transition like she can, and no one else will be able to lead the young Wings team to their Cinderella story the way she can. We’re as eager to see how her game evolves this year as her dog Kobe is to go for a walk!
Up next, learn more about another dynamic veteran player and leader of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, Nneka Ogwumike.
Moriah’s WNBA career stats reveal a strong free-throw shooter, quality three-point shooter, and someone who’s good at distributing the ball.
When you dig in a little deeper to analyze her statistics by minutes, her steals per game and assists per game a very high.
This year, she’s probably headed for even more assists. But we’d love to see a renewed focus on points per game. She’s more than capable of delivering double doubles every game.
Moriah’s a record smasher. Especially during her college years.
Back in high school Moriah was already tearing it up. Here are just a few of her many accolades.
So that’s the scoop on all of Moriah’s amazing records. Still have more questions about what this lady hooper has accomplished?
What happened to Moriah, is that she has been out with a right knee injury, but is now actively playing for the Dallas Wings.
According to the official WNBA roster, Moriah Jefferson is 5’6″ tall.
Moriah Jefferson’s Instagram is @_bonnbonn because of her love of Cinnabons. Her friend set it up for her a long time ago, and she’s never changed it.
Moriah Jefferson’s salary is $170,000 according to Spotrac. Though she make better money overseas.
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.
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