When Yolanda Moore found basketball as a high school student, she found the key to unlocking her dreams and escaping the farm life of her Port Gibson, Mississippi hometown.
Through a number of setbacks, including three knee injuries and two children before the age of 22, she pressed on and earned herself two WNBA championships.
Now, as head coach of the Lady Panthers of Clark Atlanta, she’s already clinched a SIAC championship title. Watch our exclusive interview here:
How does it feel to have accomplished what you have in your first season?
Moore: Actually, I haven’t really thought about it. Once a season ends, we’re always prepping for the next season. Once we got back, my assistant coach and I started thinking about recruiting and planning and scheduling. I haven’t really taken a lot of time to just sit down and reflect.
As you get ready for the offseason, how do you also ensure your student-athletes are raising the bar in life off the court?
Moore: This season set a standard for my players. They understand that the expectations for them as student-athletes was raised and my expectations for them as people were raised by me. My goals were to get them to first, change their thinking about what was possible for them, not just in sports but life in general. Second, I wanted them to believe that it is possible. And, finally, to raise everything that they do in terms of their work ethic, their attention to detail, changing their attitudes, their perspectives of themselves. Hopefully this winning season has showed them what we were able to do — especially the players who were here last year to go from the bottom to the top that as long as you know you have a vision, and you will put in the work and you believe and you can cancel out all the noise, then you can accomplish whatever it is that you set out to accomplish.
You once said that once you started winning, you want to continue with that mentality. What type of work does that take?
Moore: I have to ensure my players know that you are only as good as the last good thing that you’ve done. This is going to pass. It’s going to dissipate. It already has. Now, you have to see and figure out, “How can I get better? How can I improve?” Because last year is last year. It’s a whole new season now. It’s more of, for me, letting them know that you can’t rest on what you’ve done. We have to build on it. And not take the individual awards so personally. People forget, next year, there’s going to be another Coach of the Year. It may be me. I dunno. But, someone’s always coming for you. Now, you have a target on your back and the expectations have been raised. It’s a matter of digging. This is when who you will really shine through. Can you be consistent? Can you maintain that level of focus? I always want to do better or be better than I was yesterday. That’s what I try to instill into the players. Always seek to move higher. I don’t care how well you do, there’s always something you can do better.
How did it feel to get your first win this season, versus becoming the SIAC champions?
Moore: When we got the first game, I told my players that all we’ve done is won one game. Like, we’ve done nothing. And, I didn’t let them get too comfortable in celebrating because we knew what the ultimate goal was. They told me they wanted to compete for a championship. This was all on them. It wasn’t me. I told them, “You tell me what you want, and I’ll help you get it. But you’ve gotta do the work.” And so, you celebrate wins, but they don’t represent the ultimate goal. I didn’t focus on winning games. Of course, I want to win — because I’m a competitor — but that was never the focus. It was always the process. Okay, you want to be a champion and it’s possible and great, but who do you have to become as a person to achieve that?
There were some things you had to overcome in your own life that shaped the woman who you are today. Tell us about some the experiences that have created the mentality that you have.
Moore: Well, I had to grow up pretty quickly. I grew up in Mississippi and I was pretty good in basketball and track & field. I earned some pretty high accolades—Player of the Year, All-American, State Champion and more. When I went to Ole Miss, there were all these expectations that I had set for myself and that other people had set for me as well. My freshman year I suffered a knee injury. It was my left knee and I had surgery. I’d never incurred an injury before. For me, mentally, that took a lot out of me. I didn’t have sense enough to think that I couldn’t recover. The doctors said, “You have to rehab.” I rehabbed. And I expected to come back stronger.
What I didn’t expect, though, was to become pregnant as a freshman. That was not on my list of things to do. But I became a mom my freshman year of college. Having a child and being 18, and trying to be a full-time student-athlete at an SEC school with expectations and the requirements are very very high, it was really challenging. My daughter wasn’t with me all the time. She was at home with my mom. I had to spend a lot of time between Oxford and Port Gibson, just trying to maintain. I just knew that I had to make it work. I continued to rehab. And I continued to focus because basketball was all that I had. Somehow, someway it was going to work out. I just didn’t know how.
But I knew that the alternative was to go home and work on the farm. And I wasn’t about that farm life, so it was like, “We’re going to have to make this work.” My sophomore year, I earned Second team, All-SEC. My junior year, I was the leading scorer, All-SEC. I had a second knee injury and had to have surgery on my right knee. Then, my senior year, I had a third knee injury and a third knee surgery. Then, I also became pregnant again. By 22, as an athlete, with hopes of becoming a professional athlete, I’d had three knee injuries and two kids. I still had these crazy dreams of playing in the WNBA. That was all I had, though. Basketball has been everything for me. It was where I developed my confidence. It was also where I developed my tenacity and this will and this drive that I have. It was just such freedom. It was my escape to get away from my insecurities and issues like growing up without a father. I took out all of my frustrations on the court. I poured everything into it. And I got better and better. I was like, “God, if this is what you have for me, then I’m just going to make it work.”
We heard you have a couple of special book projects coming out soon. Can you tell us more about them?
Moore: One of my books is called “You’ll Win if You Don’t Quit.” It talks about dreaming big, killing the noise—the outside noise and negativity. It gives you strategies in how to leverage pains and lessons from your life into opportunities for you. It’s a book that I wrote for young women—college-aged and up— who are just looking to make a change in their life. It talks about overcoming challenges and how not to get stuck in where you are. How to operate in the process of becoming who you need to become in order to achieve the goals that you set. My next book, “Straight From The Coach’s Mouth,” is a manual for high school kids about the whole recruiting process and how to prepare for life as a college student-athlete; how to make the best choice for them—how to choose a college, how to evaluate a coaching staff; as we;; as how parents can support their kids. That book will be coming out in April.