Breanna Stewart had spent about 10 waking hours in Seattle before she was presented to Storm fans at KeyArena on Thursday. She flew in Wednesday night, and the next day she was answering questions about her knowledge of the Northwest and the keys to preparing for her first season in the WNBA. She donned the new Storm jersey, signed autographs and took pictures with fans.
She may have never been to Seattle before this week, but Stewart is certainly familiar with her new group of teammates. That includes the player she stood next to at Thursday’s event.
“If someone comes from behind to steal the ball, our associate head coach would call it the ‘Sue Bird move,’” Stewart said, referring to her four years at the University of Connecticut. “We’d hear that once every practice.”
Stewart has lived roughly 3,000 miles away from Seattle her entire life. She still doesn’t know when, or how often, her parents and 14-year-old brother will be able to visit. Luckily, a few of the Storm players have spent lots of time around Stewart in recent years. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis played three seasons with her at UConn, while Jewell Loyd had some fierce battles with them at Notre Dame and has teamed up with Stewart at USA Basketball camps.
Then there’s Bird, the veteran point guard once in Stewart’s shoes as the No. 1 draft pick. They’re 14 years apart, but Bird and Stewart had similar careers at UConn in terms of awards and championships. Stewart has been watching Bird play since the 2008 Olympics. In 2014, they won a gold medal together at the FIBA World Championship.
“It’s huge having Sue as someone to look up to, because she’s been in these situations before,” Stewart said Thursday. “She’s been in the league for quite a while, and she’s been successful. I want to have a career like she’s having. And it’s nice when you have someone who’s gone to UConn, as well.”
With lots of free time in the offseason, Bird has visited UConn often during the last few years. She was in attendance for all four of the national title games Stewart and her teammates won.
In two of those championship games, it was Loyd’s Notre Dame team that UConn defeated. UConn actually ended the Irish’s season in all three years of Loyd’s career – they met in the national semifinal her freshman year. Stewart’s team had lost three times to Notre Dame in 2012-13 before getting revenge at the Final Four.
“I don’t think there’s any animosity,” Stewart said of her history with Loyd. “When you have two great competitors in the same gym, you have to respect each other’s game.
“With Jewell, she’s a great player. There have been some tough times when we played against her, and now to be on the same court with her, it will be cool because we haven’t really gotten that aspect yet. …She’s a great competitor, and that’s the type of player you want to play with.”
Familiarity with her teammates could be a major factor in Stewart’s transition to the WNBA. But she also knows that during any transition period, there will surely be ups and downs.
As a freshman at UConn, Stewart admittedly went through some difficult times. During the final 10 games of the regular season that year, she shot 36 percent from the field and the Huskies lost three times. She scored just five points in 40 minutes against Loyd and the Irish. She played just seven minutes in a narrow loss to Baylor.
It got to the point where Stewart was doing extra practice sessions with an assistant coach.
“That was quite the struggle, making the adjustment from high school to the college level,” she said. “Especially when you’re playing under coach [Geno] Auriemma, realizing what he’s trying to do. I’m sure there’s an adjustment when you come to the professional level. But I think having those struggles early on was definitely a huge part of making my career what it’s been so far.
“Especially when you come from a successful college program, you want to have really high expectations. But obviously it’s a process. Everything doesn’t happen in one day or at the snap of your finger. It’s going to be a grind, I’m sure.”