Old Friends Meet Once Again at Outdoor Classic

On Saturday night, the New York Liberty and Indiana Fever will meet under the stars at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the Liberty Outdoor Classic.

While the event is the first of its kind in professional basketball history, it does take the game back to its roots for the players involved, back to when they were playing pick-up games on outdoor courts in their neighborhoods as kids.

For three players in particular – New York’s Loree Moore and Lisa Willis and Indiana’s Ebony Hoffman – the game may bring an even greater sense of déjà vu since the three have all played with and against each other since they were kids growing up in the greater Los Angeles area.

The trio attended Narbonne High School in Harbor City and won state championships in 2000 and 2001 for the Gauchos under Coach James Anderson.

“We played outside all the time,” Hoffman said. “We were on the blacktop more than we were on the regular hardwood because our coach was like that. We played together in a few Hoop It Up tournaments where you play outside all of the time. We’ve played together for a long time.”

The group won its first state title in Hoffman’s senior season in 2000, when Moore was a junior and Willis a sophomore. With a team boasting three future WNBA players – Hoffman says Anderson deserves a pay raise for that accomplishment – the spotlight could shift among the three prep stars.

“I think we all had our days,” Moore said when asked who the best player was in high school. “Ebony was our Big Dog, so we always ran things through her, but on any given day, it was anybody’s game.

“When Lisa came up she was always the sharpshooter on the team, so we were always getting her touches, but Ebony ran the show. She was the person in the paint, getting the rebounds, putting up the points like she’s doing now, that’s exactly what she used to do in high school.”

As Hoffman was beginning her college career at nearby USC, Moore and Willis would lead Narbonne to another state title the following season. Moore would then leave to play for Pat Summitt at Tennessee and Willis would eventually head to UCLA to compete against Hoffman in the Pac-10.

For Hoffman and Moore the connection can be traced back further than high school, as the two began playing basketball when they were in the fifth and fourth grades, respectively.

“We’re like a close-knit family,” Moore said. “We’ve always been around each other. We won on every type of AAU or basketball tournament that could possibly lure us together. So I think that’s just the bond that we have. We really care about each other, we’ll do anything for each other, we look out for each other, we make sure everybody is doing well wherever they are, and the support is always there.”

Hoffman said she has enjoyed watching her former high school teammate continue to excel at the professional level.

“It’s been fun watching your old high school teammates and seeing them flourish,” Hoffman said. “Loree is flourishing and is one of the best point guards in the WNBA and Lisa Willis is turning into one of the better 3-point shooters in the WNBA. So it’s just fun to see how everyone is molding into their own.”

As they continue to grow as players, they all try to keep in contact with each other as well. The task was made easier for Moore and Willis when Willis was traded to the Liberty last season. Tracking down Hoffman has proven to be a more difficult task.

"It’s kind of hard with Ebony, she’s busy,” Moore said. “I get to talk to her sometimes, but it’s usually when we go see each other. If I go to Indiana or she comes to New York, then we really get to catch up on things. But other than that, it’s kind of like our schedules conflict and it’s hard to reach her sometimes. She’s always doing something, so you can’t get a hold of her.”

Getting the entire trio together only happens a few times each year, which makes the Outdoor Classic such a special event for all three.

“Our high school coach is coming to that game and everybody’s family is flying out for that game,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to be really memorable because this outdoor game is going to be the first time in WNBA history and all of us are involved in it. And it’s the first time in our high school history that three WNBA players are playing against each other in such a memorable game.”

For Moore, the Outdoor Classic not only brings back memories of her, Hoffman and Willis on the court together for the Gauchos, it also reminds her of playing in the park near her house as a child.

“I’m excited because I haven’t played outdoors since high school,” she said. “I used to go out all of the time because I had a park right by my house. I used to always go and work on my game. So I’m really excited. It’s going to a little different because I haven’t done it in a very long time. But I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how everything plays out. I think it’s going to be a great game.”

The last time these two teams met, the Liberty defeated the Fever in a triple-overtime classic at the Garden. Will Saturday’s game offer more of the same? Keep in mind the forecast calls for a high of 93 degrees.

“I hope there's none of that,” Moore said with a laugh. “We’re going to back that part out and just go with a regulation game, but I think its going to be a great game to watch.”