By Matthew Roberson
When watching her advanced, preternatural style of play on the basketball court, it can be easy to forget that Jewell Loyd is just 23 years old. After being chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft as a baby-faced 21-year-old, Loyd has certainly made a name for herself in the league. Her personal list of accolades already includes the 2015 Rookie of the Year award, as well as a spot on the 2016 All-WNBA Second Team. At an age when most of her non-basketball playing peers are looking for that first job that can launch them into a stable career, Loyd has found herself a home with the Storm.
It is here in Seattle that Loyd has grown from a wide-eyed college kid into a mature, level-headed adult. Part of this transition includes giving back to her adopted community in the Seattle area. The third-year guard out of Notre Dame hosted a camp for kids – a group consisting of fourth graders through juniors in high school – on June 17. The second installment of the camp is set for July 16 at Shoreline Community College. For Loyd, the reasoning behind starting a camp was simple: to help the kids.
“I think it’s important to give back to the younger generation,” Loyd said. “A lot of times camps and programs don’t really care about the kids, it’s mostly just making money and trying to find a way to get money. We try to lower the [price] rates as much as we can. We also have scholarships for a lot of people that can’t afford camps. We try to get as many kids as we can, and give them the best equipment too. It was really cool. Everyone was really engaged. I just wanted to really teach them.”
Loyd points to Doug Bruno and his annual camp held in Loyd’s home state of Illinois as inspiration for her set of basketball clinics. Bruno, who has been head coach of the women’s program at DePaul University for 31 seasons, instilled many hardwood values in Loyd that she wanted to relay to her own campers. Loyd says that her three years at Bruno’s camp served as a template for her Gold Mamba Striker Series sessions.
“Doug Bruno does a great job of really teaching fundamentals and teaching the love of the game,” Loyd said. “That’s something that I think is missing in a lot of camps. It’s not just about having the best crossover, or skills, skills, skills. It’s knowing how to make the right passes, and how to be a good teammate, and how to be a good leader. That’s something that I definitely learned at Doug Bruno’s camps. Knowing that there’s not really a lot of those left, if I could start something and have that kind of philosophy behind it, it’s pretty important.”
Aside from leaving a legacy in the Pacific Northwest community, Loyd is also well on her way to leaving a golden legacy in the WNBA. She has improved her points per game, three-point percentage, and free throw attempts per game in each year of her burgeoning career. These improvements could be part of the reason Storm head coach Jenny Boucek is using Loyd as more of a focal point of the offense in 2017. Loyd’s usage rate, a statistic which measures the percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that are given to one player, has also increased with each new season. In 2017, Loyd is using 28.0 percent of Seattle’s possessions, up from 25.8 last year and 23.3 during her rookie season. When asked if her increased role was something that was planned before the season, Loyd divulged that it was simply a manifestation of her aggressive playing style.
“I think it just happened naturally,” Loyd shared. “I try not to focus too much on stats, I just try to play. If that’s what it says, that’s what it says.”
The 28.0 usage rate puts Loyd in the upper echelon of WNBA stars, just a tick below perennial All-Stars Tina Charles (29.1) and Brittney Griner (28.3), and mere decimal points behind teammate Breanna Stewart (28.1). Being recognized as an All-Star is one of the few things that has eluded Loyd to this point in her career. Of course, with the 2017 All-Star festivities being held in Seattle, she is not shy about voicing her desire to be there.
“I mean that’s something that’s a goal,” Loyd admitted, before listing some of her other goals. “You have All-Star team, you have MVP, you have the Olympic team. If I get selected that’s something I could definitely cross off my list. The city of Seattle deserves it. This is an opportunity for everyone to see what the city’s about and how we come out and support women’s sports.”
One of Loyd’s most vocal supporters is NBA legend Kobe Bryant. In addition to modeling her game after Bryant’s and donning the same No. 24 on her jersey, Loyd’s Gold Mamba nickname also has Bryant’s influence on it. While Bryant was not the one who originally came up with the moniker, he has no problem putting the mamba label on his young protégé. Loyd spoke about the birth of the nickname and how it eventually received the stamp of approval from the Black Mamba himself.
“It kind of started at Notre Dame,” Loyd revealed. “It was a fan [who came up with it]. Everyone knew that I’m a big Kobe fan, so it kind of worked out perfectly. After I met with Kobe he approved it, and then it kind of just stuck.”
Despite spending her entire childhood and college years in the Midwest, Loyd’s fandom and appreciation for Bryant and the Lakers never waned. Growing up in Illinois allowed for an eclectic basketball perspective.
“I’ve been a Lakers fan,” Loyd reassured. “My dad’s a big Magic Johnson fan, so we’ve always kind of been Lakers fans. My parents had season tickets when Michael Jordan was doing it, [but] growing up in a basketball family, my team has always been the Lakers.”
To clarify, this is not a one-sided admiration. When Bryant was in attendance for the Storm’s season opener in Los Angeles he took the time to explain their unique relationship.
“Jewell’s like a little sister to me,” Bryant said. “It’s great to come out and support her. I met her, and she just asked a lot of questions about the game and the process, and the relationship just developed from there.”
Loyd’s game and process in the WNBA has also received a tremendous boost from Storm point guard Sue Bird. One of the true offensive maestros in league history, Bird has taken Loyd under her wing over the past three seasons and contributed to her backcourt partner’s maturation. Of course, Loyd holds Bird in a rarified air given her long list of basketball accomplishments.
“She’s such a professional, off and on the court. I learned from one of the best point guards in the game,” Loyd said of her teammate. “Her IQ level is so high, so any time she talks or helps me with something, it’s usually dead on […] the pick and rolls and seeing the floor differently. I always try to pick her brain just to get a little information from it. If I get like two percent of her attention span and work ethic, then I think anyone could just be decent in the league.”
To say that Loyd has been decent in the league thus far is an understatement. This season, the Gold Mamba has more games with 25 or more points than household names Diana Taurasi, Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore, and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Luckily for Storm fans, Loyd’s development is happening in harmony with second year forward Breanna Stewart. Seattle’s dynamic duo went from college rivals to WNBA running mates, and became close friends along the way.
“We’ve always had respect for each other, so being teammates with her is just easier,” Loyd said. “We knew it was a possibility that we’d be teammates, and now we’re teammates here in Seattle. We hang out and talk all the time, and it’s kind of cool, we’re both going through the process together at the same age. In a sense, we’re just kids going through it and enjoying the ride.”
Unlike most kids, Loyd has already received praise from her idol, the notoriously hard-to-please Bryant. With most of her career still in front of her, and an all-time great willing to offer guidance, there seems to be no limit to what Loyd can do. If you ask Bryant, the Storm has a special talent that possesses the traits he looks for in young players.
“When I watched her play, certain things can stand out,” Bryant told Summitt Hoops. “Like I can tell if a player is really serious about the game or if they’re just bs’ing. If you’re bs’ing I’m not going to give you the time of day. I think she’s doing fantastic, but I also think there’s another gear that she has, that she will get to.”
If that is indeed the case, Loyd’s next gear could strike fear in WNBA opponents for the next decade. After all, Bryant didn’t win his first championship until his fourth year in the league.