When the WNBA Draft got under way on April 17, it was the first live sporting event that many folks had watched in more than a month. Balls weren’t bouncing and shots weren’t going in, but this was sports. There was excitement, and nearly 400,000 people tuned into watch on ESPN.
But Wes Moore was not one of them. While the draft was going on and while many Wolfpack fans were hoping to hear senior point guard Aislinn Konig’s name called, the N.C. State head women’s basketball coach was busy trying to build his future teams.
“I’ll be honest with you, we were doing a Zoom call with a recruit and her parents during the WNBA Draft that night. We’re at the mercy of recruits,” Moore said recently during a Zoom call with reporters.
The coronavirus has shaken and restricted the sports world since mid-March, but it hasn’t stopped Moore from recruiting. After leading N.C. State to its first ACC Tournament title since 1991 this past season, he’s been focused on reloading his squad and making it better for years to come in an effort to keep that trophy in Raleigh.
Last week, Moore secured a commitment from one of the top transfers on the market in Raina Perez, the reigning Big West Player of the Year from Cal State Fullerton. She’ll be able to play immediately as a graduate transfer and her averages of 19.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per-game will help fill the void at point guard left by Konig, the ACC Tournament MVP who went unselected by WNBA teams.
Moore also has an incoming freshman class that includes a pair of four-star recruits and one of Canada’s top 10 players.
“We’re doing Zoom calls with recruits and their parents. And obviously, a lot of phone calls, those sorts of things,” Moore said. “We’re working our tails off trying to get it done and trying to take advantage of the success we’ve had the last few years.”
N.C. State had been to the NCAA tournament in four of Moore’s previous six seasons on the job. After winning the ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack seemed primed to land a No. 2 seed in the 2020 tournament before it was scrapped.
Still, while Moore is marching on with business as usual with recruiting — minus interacting with prospects face-to-face — there’s still much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming high school and college seasons because of the pandemic.
“Obviously, we’re all going to be in the same boat,” Moore said. “Some we’re still having discussions of, is there a chance that (AAU teams) play in July? That’s not looking real good right now. Do they push some events, maybe into August and September, maybe on weekends? You know, we’re all up in the air just like football. You know, who knows when football is going to be played, and that may affect when basketball is played.
“It’s tough. I think there are certain recruits right now that are committing because of the uncertainty. You know, some of them are wanting to stay closer to home maybe because of all this. Some of them are going ahead and making their decisions because they don’t feel like official visits are going to happen. Others are holding out… So, it’s really all over the board, everybody’s a little bit different.”
For Moore, the one thing that is certain is the talent he is bringing back next season. Four of N.C. State’s starters return, as does off-the-bench contributor Jada Boyd, who made the ACC’s All-Freshman team along with starter Jakia Brown-Turner.
The star of the Wolfpack’s often sold-out show, the engine that makes everything work on offense and defense, is Elissa Cunane. An All-ACC First Team selection and Third Team All-American this past year, Cunane will be back for her junior year in Raleigh. A native of Summerfield and a graduate of Northern Guilford High School, the 6-foot-5 center was a finalist for the Lisa Leslie Award in 2020 after averaging 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per-game. She was also third in the ACC in field goal percentage with a 54.7 percent clip.
Cunane earned the moniker “Big Smile” from broadcaster Debbie Antonelli for the uncontainable joy that she plays with and the always present grin spread across her face. But next season, Moore is hoping that Cunane will be called that nickname a little bit less and show her competitive edge more.
“Elissa is just such a great person and friendly person,” Moore said. “Well, I’d like her to be called ‘Big Frown’ sometimes on the court more. And you’ll see it every now and then. You’ll see a little bit of an attitude come out (toward) the opponent. But we got to work on that… Defensively, she’s got to have attitude, that she gets mad when she gets scored on, you know, be competitive on that defensive end.
Moore is also hoping Cunane can improve on her decision making, in terms of which shots to take and when to take them, and when to give the ball up.
“I’ve been for two years wanting her to maybe use the baby hook a little bit more,” he said. “I think that can be effective. She’s got to use her left hand more effectively. But really, just too many turnovers. She’s got to be able to pass the ball out of the double team, because she’s going to get double teamed. But you know, what a year she had. She’s worked so hard on her three-point shooting. I think she shot 44 percent from three. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wanting her to stand around that three-point line all day by any means, but if she comes down in that drill position, I have as much confidence in her shooting the three as anybody on our team.”
Whenever sports do resume and whenever the next college basketball season does start, Cunane, Moore and the Wolfpack will be poised to have N.C. State competing for more banners, in the ACC and nationally.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement around our program. Definitely. Our fans are awesome. Our season ticket sales, since I’ve been here, has multiplied times seven. And I hope we take another big jump,” Moore said. “Definitely trying to parlay that into excitement with recruits… I’m anxious to get them back on campus and start a new chapter.”
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