July 29, 2016

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Life in the United States often proceeds at breakneck speed. The pace in Europe can be dramatically different, University of Virginia women’s basketball player Lauren Moses learned this summer.

Moses, a junior forward from Mount Holly, N.J., was one of about a dozen student-athletes from the University — her teammate Aliyah Huland El was another — who took part in the first session of the UVA in Valencia summer program.

Starting in mid-May, 152 UVA students spent about four weeks studying in Spain. The students earned six credit hours each for their classroom work. Moses’ focus was Spain’s sports, language and culture.

“The culture, it’s so laidback compared to America,” said Moses, who stayed with a host family in Valencia. “Here, everyone has a plan, everyone has a schedule: `I have to do this at this time.’ Over there, it’s so laidback. It’s like, `We’ll meet at 9:30,’ and you don’t get there till 10:30, and it’s perfectly fine.”

She laughed. “We were definitely early to a lot of things at the start, and then by the end we were late to everything.”

Moses had been to Mexico, but that trip differed from this one, she said, “because in Spain I was forced to speak Spanish.” She had some background in the language but, unlike her close friend Huland El, could not speak Spanish fluently.

“I could understand it, and I could say some things, but I couldn’t say everything, so that was an eye-opener for me,” Moses said. “At home, my host mom didn’t speak English at all, so I had to speak Spanish to her.”

Huland El, who stayed with the same host family, “could sit here and have a conversation with you in Spanish,” Moses said. “Me, not so much. I could understand what they were saying sometimes, but the first day I was mute. I was like, `OK, you guys got this.’ But obviously as the weeks went on and I had to communicate, it became a lot easier.”

Moses’ adventure abroad came at a time when most of her teammates were in the United States honing their basketball skills. Still, she went with the support of head coach Joanne Boyle, as did Huland El, a junior wing from Randolph, N.J.

“I had a lot of conversations with Lauren throughout,” Boyle said. “She really wanted to do this. I understand it. I get it. Basketball takes so much of the players’ time during the year, they don’t have a lot of time to get to be quote-unquote `regular students.’ ”

Assistant coach La’Keshia Frett Meredith said: “It’s great for our young ladies to be able [to visit Spain] and experience that, because who usually gets a chance to do such a thing? That’s part of being at a university like the University of Virginia. On the flip side, you want to be sure they’re being responsible in the other part of their life, being a student-athlete.”

And so Moses traveled to Spain determined to return to Charlottesville in good physical condition. She worked out every morning, thousands of miles and an ocean away from John Paul Jones Arena.

“Lauren did a great job of handling that,” Frett Meredith said.

As the final session of summer school at UVA winds down, the 6-2 Moses is focused on preparing for the 2016-17 season. She’s coming off a year in which she averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds and led the Wahoos in blocked shots, with 24.

“I think she made all the right improvements she needed to from her freshman to her sophomore year,” said Frett Meredith, who works with Virginia’s post players, “and that’s what you want to see in your student-athletes.”

Moses started all 34 games for the Cavaliers in 2015-16. As a freshman, she started 30 games and averaged 6.1 points and 5.7 rebounds.

“She’s finishing better, she’s more aggressive, her shot is more consistent from the outside,” Boyle said. “I just think she saw some success last year, and she wants to improve, and I think she really works hard.”

For all the strides she made as a sophomore, Moses hasn’t come close to reaching her potential. “There’s little things we can identify to clean up,” Frett Meredith said.

Moses shot only 43.7 percent from the floor — especially for a post player — and 56.5 percent from the line. Moreover, she had more than twice as many turnovers (72) as assists (33).

“I would like to see her be a double-double player,” Frett Meredith said. “That’s my ultimate goal for her: be a double-double player, and at the same time be smarter with her passes.”

Moses said: “My free-throw percentage needs to be way up. My field-goal percentage could be higher. I’ve definitely been leaving points out there by not finishing as well as I could have or should have.”

Frett Meredith said she believes Moses can expand her shooting range to beyond the 3-point arc, “and that’s something she’s been working on. I’d like to see her take a couple of threes this year, which will open things up [for teammates down low].”

For her first two seasons at UVA, Moses was one of the taller players on one of the ACC’s smaller teams. She’ll have more help in the frontcourt this season. The Cavaliers’ 2016-17 roster includes 6-9 freshman Felicia Aiyeotan, 6-4 sophomore Debra Ferguson, 6-3 sophomore Moné Jones, 6-3 redshirt freshman Shakyna Payne and 6-3 freshman Lisa Jablonowski.

“It’s definitely been great,” said Moses, who praised Aiyeotan’s progress this summer.

“She’s been doing great, working hard, knowing she has things to improve, but she’s not backing down,” Moses said. “She’s physical. She’s getting stronger [in the weight room], and it shows on the court, so that’s a good thing.”

The `Hoos finished 18-16 in 2015-16. Their only senior this season will be point guard Breyana Mason, who has assumed a position of authority in the program. In years past, the soft-spoken Mason usually preferred to lead by example, but she’s not hesitating to speak up this summer.

“Breyana has grown so much since I first got here,” Moses said. “It’s amazing to see the younger girls looking up to her and knowing, `OK, we gotta do this, because Bre said so.’ The first-years have been amazing, just buying into everything that we’re trying to do for next year.”

Moses, who lives with Huland El, has strong athletic genes. Her father, Vernon, played basketball at what is now Rowan University. Her brother, Dezman, a Tulane alumnus, plays linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Of having an NFL player in the family, Moses said initially “it was a little weird seeing my brother on TV and seeing his name in a lot of articles. Now, we’re three, four years in, and it’s kind of normal when camp starts and he’s super busy, not speaking to anyone, very focused.”

At Rancocas Valley Regional High School, Moses played on the varsity for four years and broke the record for career points set by former UVA great DeMya Walker. Moses, who led Rancocas to two state titles, finished with 1,832 career points.

Walker had a long career in the WNBA after graduating from UVA.

“I knew of her growing up in my town,” Moses recalled, “and then when I got to high school I knew that she had a record in my school. And then obviously once I got interested in Virginia, I was like, `Oh, wow, what a coincidence.’

“She actually came [back to Mount Holly] my senior year when she got inducted into the hall of fame at my school, so I got to meet her then. I hadn’t broken her record yet. Eventually I did, and she reached out to me and said, `Congratulations. I’m always rooting for you.’ ”

An American Studies major, with a concentration in Popular & Visual Culture, Moses won’t soon forget this summer.

“Spain was amazing,” she said. “It was a great experience, and I definitely recommend it to all student-athletes, knowing we don’t get a lot of time to do things like that in summer.”

When she’ll return to Spain, Moses doesn’t know. But she wants try to master the language she spoke, however haltingly at times, in Valencia.

“I’m going to continue to take Spanish, so that hopefully I can minor in Spanish,” Moses said.

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