Why Breanna Stewart Could be WNBA’s Next Once-in-a-Lifetime Player

Thousands of athletes have been invited to the White House over the years to celebrate their achievements. As is tradition, the president hosts the champion of just about every professional and college sport in the United States. Each team gets a tour of the building, poses for photos and watches the president give a speech about its championship season.

By the end of Barack Obama’s tenure, no athlete will have visited him more often than Breanna Stewart. During Obama’s second presidential term, Stewart and her University of Connecticut teammates have made a habit of stopping by annually.

Stewart, who compiled more individual and team accolades than any other player in women’s college basketball history, is now making travel arrangements for a one-way trip across the country. After being selected with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft on Thursday, she’s officially a member of the Seattle Storm.

“This is a big day for our franchise and for our city,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said. “We’ve had the good fortune of building around two once-in-a-lifetime cornerstones in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. What has been incredibly special about Sue and LJ is that they are not only unique talents, but they are even better teammates and women. Breanna is of the same breed: a rare combination of elite talent and character.”

Known as “Stewie” by her friends and teammates, Stewart is the franchise’s fourth No. 1 draft pick. She joins Jackson, Bird and Jewell Loyd, last year’s top selection and WNBA Rookie of the Year.

Boucek said Seattle received numerous trade offers from teams looking to acquire the No. 1 pick. She and her staff were willing to listen to offers up until the last minute. But after watching Stewart play in-person at the USA Basketball camp in February and at the Final Four earlier this month, Boucek knew there was no chance her club would receive an offer worth considering.

It wasn’t just the UConn success that made Stewart so desired by WNBA teams. The 6-4 forward has won at every level she’s played. On the international stage, she’s amassed six gold medals and a 41-1 record in FIBA World and American championships. Stewart is already a two-time USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year, and she’s among the finalists for this summer’s Olympic team. In high school, she won back-to-back New York Class AA state titles.

Her team is always in position to win, and UConn’s dynasty is the most prominent example of that.

Alongside fellow All-Americans Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, Stewart guided the Huskies to an unprecedented run of four consecutive national titles. Stewart won 120 of her final 121 games at UConn, all 120 wins coming by double digits. She was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player four straight years and the AP Player of the Year three straight years, both new records.

Even at a place like UConn, where dozens of all-time greats have starred in the last two decades, Stewart’s list of accomplishments is unrivaled.

“When you win four out of four, it’s kind of hard to argue with that,” said Seattle’s Sue Bird, a two-time champion at UConn. “I think when it comes to winning championships, the best part about it is, when it’s all said and done and people try to make arguments about who’s the best, you can’t argue with championships. And she’s got four of them.”

Her individual stats aren’t quite as eye-popping as the four trophies. Surrounded by All-American teammates throughout her career, Stewart never led her own conference in scoring or rebounding. In fact, she barely cracked the nation’s top 50 in points per game as a senior. But taking into account every aspect of the game, she was arguably the most efficient and versatile player the NCAA has ever seen.

As the tallest player on the court, Stewart ranked second on UConn with four assists per game this past season. Her 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio was 16th in the country. She also averaged 3.4 blocks and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 57.9 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three-point range and 83.6 percent at the free-throw line. She’s the only player in Division I history with 400 career assists and 400 career blocks. And amidst all those blocks and steals, Stewart never fouled out of a single game.

“I think she’s going to be great right away,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “She’s the only player in the draft who’s had extensive experience playing with and against pros because of her experience with the National Team. I think she’s going to make an immediate impact, kind of like Elena Delle Donne did her rookie year.”

Delle Donne, the reigning WNBA MVP, is probably the only current player that can be compared to Stewart in terms of style of play. They’re about the same height, both are three-point shooters and both have the ball-handling skills of a guard. Stewart can play the role of the screener in a pick-and-roll, or she can be the one bringing the ball up. Oh, and she can dunk.

Perhaps the main reason why Stewart is such a difficult matchup is her incredible 7-1 wingspan. According to ESPN Sports Science, the release point of her jump shot is about nine feet, making it nearly impossible for the defender to contest. Thus, while she spent a lot of time in the post during college, UConn would also run plays with Stewart curling around screens for jumpers or spotting up in the corner.

Boucek said after last season that she wanted to implement a system of positionless players in Seattle. With the No. 1 draft pick, she took a player that fits the mold perfectly.

Having played alongside Bird and Loyd at the National Team in recent years – she also reunites with former UConn teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis – Stewart should be able to make a smooth transition to the Storm. Even if it takes her a bit of time to get used to the pro game, her WNBA peers all believe she can become a franchise-changing player.

“The thing I love about Stewie is she loves basketball,” former MVP Diana Taurasi said at the recent USA Basketball camp. “That’s what she loves to do more than anything else. I think that’s gotten lost a little bit in basketball these days. Everyone wants the lights, but no one wants to put in the hard work. She’s the opposite. She could care less about all this. She wants to be the best basketball player in the world, and I have the utmost respect for that.”

Throughout her basketball career, Stewart has consistently helped her teams rise to the top. Now we wait and see if she can make it back to the White House one day as a WNBA champion.