Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Success has not gone to the head of former UConn star Breanna Stewart

Over the years I have spent my share of quality time with some of the greatest women's basketball players of all time.

I've seen Sue Bird move by the knee injury that cost her most of her freshman season at UConn and become a four-time Olympic gold medalist. Now she stands 101 assists shy of Ticha Penicheiro's WNBA career record. I still remember my phone conversations with Diana Taurasi during her recruiting process and the time that thanks to the folks at USA Basketball, I was able to spend about 30 minutes with Maya Moore before she played her first game at UConn.

Between UConn, the WNBA and USA Basketball, I've interacted with UConn greats so many times. Normally, it is a case of a nosy reporter like me asking the questions and them providing the answers. In those scenarios, they are in their element and so am I. However, it is impossible to know how they will react when we meet in other situations whether it is a case of me staying in the same hotel, boarding the same flight or being at the same hotel. Even the most accomodating of former and UConn player can reach the point when they've seen enough of me and some may say that takes place in the first minute or two that they first meet me. However, I always find it interesting to see how they react when we have chance meetings.

I remember at the 2016 Final Four, it was a who's who of UConn women's basketball waiting to greet the team after the Huskies won the national championship. I was among the media waiting outside the locker room. One by one they walked by, a few would give a polite wave or say hello but the only one who stopped, reached out to shake my hand and ask how I was doing was Tina Charles.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and I was leaving Mohegan Sun Arena after the Connecticut Sun/Los Angeles Sparks game. I turned the corner and started down the hallway leading to the parking garage when I heard a familiar voice say, "hey, what's up." It was Breanna Stewart with a few of her Seattle Storm teammates. Had she kept walking without acknowledging me, I wouldn't have given it a second thought but that is not her way. "You're coming Thursday night, right" she asked as if she needed to ask that question.

When a group of Connecticut media got to speak to her before Thursday's game, she was just as jovial. It speaks volumes into the type of person that she is. If you've met her parents, you would expect her to act the way she does. I still remember when Stewart was a junior and at the Final Four, the press conference to announce the Associated Press player and coach of the year was fast approaching. As I was walking in that direction, her parents asked me where the event was being held so I led them into the room. We all went to the back of the room and I remember her mom asking, "what if is she isn't the winner." I laughed and said if you look around the room, there was only Connecticut media and officials. Then I said, "you'll be the parents of the year if you are here to watch Jewell Loyd win national player of the year." Heather Stewart's response was, "I love Jewell Loyd."

Stewart was among the first of the Seattle players to emerge from the locker room at halftime. The Storm played had every expectation of being able to run onto the floor and get some shots off. However, Katie Douglas, Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales were finishing up a question and answer session as part of the Sun honoring its 15th season. Stewart quickly began to applaud as the three players wrapped up the event. Soon many of her teammates followed Stewart's lead. It was impressive to see.

I've said this before and I will say it again. In all the years I've covered UConn, there has never been a better class to deal with that Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. Not once in four years did they roll their eyes at a question, seem annoyed to talk to us or send out any vibes about them having better things to do that talk to us.

It was more of the same on Tuesday when I sat down with Tuck for a story I am working on documenting the impact of 15 seasons of the WNBA at Mohegan Sun and specifically how UConn and the Connecticut Sun have benefited from both being in this state that loves its women's basketball. Her answers were thoughtful and she was accommodating as always.

As for Stewart's time with the media, she spoke about the warm welcome she receives when she returns to Connecticut.

"It is really special to be here," Stewart said. "I am walking through and everybody stops me, 'I loved your career at UConn and I still follow you.' That feels good and to see a lot of people here tonight whether they have UConn gear, Seattle gear, I am just happy to be back."

See spoke about her "offseason" playing in China.

"I liked Shanghai and China," Stewart said. "I'm going back next year with a lot of the same players so it is exciting.

"Just continuing to feel more and more comfortable and aware of the pressure. I had to do a lot with my team, bringing the ball up, coming off screens, shooting the 3 off the dribble or just creating something. You have full range to do whatever you want."

Then there was talk about her being more willing to voice her opinion on matters both on and off the court.

"Continuing to become a professional, be a professional and hold myself to professional (standards)," Stewart said. "You have (responsibility) on the court but off the court, using my platform to speak and vocalize my thoughts, just doing things as a pro would."

Stewart rarely spoke on subjects outside of basketball during her time at UConn.

"You don't think about it, there are so many things going on," Stewart said. "CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey) has you doing so many things and when I was done with the season at Seattle, there were things that needed to be talked about, when I was at the ESPYs, it seemed like there was a lot happening in our world and instead of spending time (just) saying thank you very much, I was thinking about something that is really important and (speaking) from the heart."

With Stewart and fellow UConn legend Sue Bird returning with Seattle and the game promoted heavily due to the 15th season celebration, the crowd of 8,868 was not only the largest of the season for the Sun but largest since 9,110 turned out when Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury came to town exactly four years earlier.

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