The Lynx signed a new player Wednesday.
She’s slightly undersized, but tough. Unflappable. Knows the value of defense. And though her tenure figures to be short, her impact on the team could be immense.
Her name is Ariya Smith. She’s 14, from Thornton, Colo., and will be a freshman in high school this fall. She’s been watching Maya Moore for years and is a big fan. Wednesday she got to meet her.
Her reaction: “Speechless,” she said.
Smith, along with sister Deja, mom Renee and stepdad Howard were at the Lynx practice facility Wednesday as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Smith has systemic lupus.
She was in town to meet her hero, but there was much more. A point guard, she met Moore and practiced with the team. After practice ended, in a news conference-like situation, the Lynx signed her to an honorary contract and gave her a uniform (No. 1). Thursday she will take part in all team events, will warm up for the game against Seattle at Target Center and then sit on the bench with the team.
What is she looking forward to most? “Watching them beat Seattle,” she said.
Turns out Smith has a good sense of timing.
She met Moore on Wednesday morning before practice. Moore asked her if she wanted to do some shooting, and Smith responded by making one shot after another as they moved around the arc.
“I said, ‘OK, before you take my spot, let’s stop,’ ” Moore said.
Smith was jumping into drills five minutes into practice. After it was over, when coach Cheryl Reeve asked her what she liked most about practice. Defense, she said.
“Be ready,” Reeve joked. “You’re [Lindsay] Whalen’s backup.”
Smith’s experience is being filmed by ESPN as part of its “My Wish” series; her story should run the week of July 19. What should become clear is that this experience was a great one for both sides, something Moore quickly found out.
“Make-A-Wish is an awesome opportunity for everyone involved,” said Moore, who will turn 26 Thursday. “Not just for us to have Ariya’s dream come true. But also to spend time with this young lady and her family. You realize life is bigger than basketball.
“We can impact each other. We get humbled and motivated by her story and the way she continues to fight through her challenges. It’s going to be great to celebrate my birthday with my new friend.”
Smith was asked why she was such a Maya Moore fan. The way she smiled made it clear she thought the answer was obvious.
“She’s like Michael Jordan,” she said. “I’ve been watching her since she was at Connecticut.”
The great thing, as Reeve said, is that the 14-year-old Smith has known the WNBA her whole life, so having a woman as her role model is only natural.
Moore recalled being a big fan of Cynthia Cooper in the WNBA’s early days. Now, a generation later, Smith looks up to Moore.
“It’s a full-circle moment,” Moore said.
“Thinking back when I was 14, if I’d have had this experience I’d have passed out. … It’s good to take a minute and remember the bigger picture, and the things we can do through sports.
‘‘… It keeps us motivated and grateful and excited to see her excitement.”