In just the last three weeks, Breanna Stewart may have spent more time on an airplane than she will during the entire WNBA season. She went to New York City and back for the unveiling of the United States Olympic roster, attended her college graduation at Connecticut and stopped by the White House, all while trying to adjust to her new job on the other side of the country.
That’s why, among other reasons, Stewart can breathe a sigh of relief as the Storm heads to Los Angeles for its season opener this weekend. Seattle will face the Sparks at 2 p.m. on Sunday at STAPLES Center.
“I’ve been looking forward to it a lot, because now I can just focus on the Storm,” said Stewart, the No. 1 pick in the draft. “A lot has been going on, but now this is what we’re looking forward to.”
After playing in one of the Storm’s two preseason games, Stewart will likely be in the starting lineup when she makes her official WNBA debut on Sunday. The three-time AP Player of the Year had a strong outing in her lone preseason appearance, scoring 11 points and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds against Phoenix.
Of all the players in Seattle’s training camp, Stewart has had to absorb the most information.
“Her head’s spinning,” head coach Jenny Boucek said after Stewart’s preseason debut. “We knew that was kind of going to screw her up a little bit, and that she might take some steps backward initially. But we feel like this is going to take her forward the quickest. You can see she’s having to think more than she will eventually, and her instincts are so good that those will come out more as she gets settled.”
Right off the bat, Stewart will be tested by one of the best frontcourts in the league when the Storm clashes with L.A. Last year the Sparks started two All-Star forwards (Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike) and an All-Star center (Jantel Lavender), all of whom return for the 2016 season. They’ve also added former Storm center Ann Wauters.
Stewart is especially looking forward to the matchup with Parker, a two-time WNBA MVP.
“It’s huge. She’s one of the best players in the game,” Stewart said. “She’s so versatile. She’s someone I watched growing up, so I can’t wait.”
“Breanna’s got a tough matchup every night,” Boucek added. “That’s the fun part of the WNBA, and I think she understands that. She hasn’t experienced it, so intellectually she understands that, but I don’t know how much she really gets it yet. But she’s looking forward to that. She’s looking forward to the challenge of the WNBA, and I think that’s very authentic.”
With Stewart in the spotlight, Seattle will face L.A. in its regular-season opener for the fifth consecutive year. The Sparks have won three of the last four openers, but the Storm swept the matchup in 2015 by winning all four games. Seattle’s first home game of the year is a week from Sunday against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx.