Get anywhere even close to the Seattle Storm’s practice gym and you hear repeated shouts of “Stewie.”
Stewie? Ah, yes, Breanna Stewart, who recently arrived on the Seattle professional sports scene with a college résumé that none before her could match.
That her teammates are so generous with her nickname says two things about the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick’s early assimilation with the Storm: She’s fitting in well and being embraced. (Nobody uses a nickname on somebody they don’t like.) And, since we’re hearing the shouts so often, it means she’s tearing it up in practice already.
Perhaps this all was to be expected considering Stewart’s unprecedented recognition out of the University of Connecticut. She was the four-time NCAA Tournament most outstanding player on a UConn team that won four consecutive national titles and put together a 151-5 record.
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Watching her a little in practice Friday, the versatile 6-foot-4 Stewart reminded me of when Kevin Durant showed up as a rookie for the Sonics. He was lean and long-armed and absurdly talented, able to handle the ball and shoot from anywhere.
Except Stewart defends, too.
And relative to the competition, she might have a similar impact on her team that Durant had on his.
“She’s a walking mismatch, that’s what she is,” said guard Sue Bird, a nine-time WNBA All-Star and holdover from the Storm title teams of 2004 and 2010, when she led the club along with front-court star Lauren Jackson.
“She (Stewart) does a lot of things very well,” Bird said. “Some people can do one or two things, but she’s a great shooter, with range, a great passer, she reads the game so well; she can post up and also shoot 3s. She’s a real problem (for opponents).”
Bird stressed the ways in which Stewart’s long arms shut down opposing offenses. An ESPN Sport Science study reported that Stewart’s 7-foot-1 wingspan is nearly an inch longer than LeBron James, who is four inches taller.
Stewart gets tossed into Storm action quickly, with Sunday’s opener at Los Angeles followed by the home opener on May 22 against defending WNBA champion Minnesota. Half of the U.S. Olympic roster will be playing in that game, with Bird and Stewart going against four Olympians on the Lynx team.
Stewart is a big-time star in her sport, capable of generating fan interest and attendance. And it seems she could become a regional favorite, too. Turns out, she apparently has a liking for Skittles. What’s next? “StewMode” T-shirts?
One thing that Bird pointed out is that Stewart will have to be aware that opponents are going to target her with aggressive play under the basket. That’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re the No. 1 overall pick.
“You have to adjust at each level when you move up, with this one you find women who are bigger and faster and stronger than they were in college,” Stewart said. “It’s amplified in every way you can look at it.”
The fact that basketball is now her full-time job, she said, makes it easier in some ways.
“I love my job, love it; it’s a great job,” Stewart said. “So I’ve been spending time thinking of all the things I can do to constantly get better — with nutrition, lifting weights. I want to make sure I’m hitting all the important areas. Plus, when it’s your job, nobody is telling you have to do things, you have to tell yourself.”
It seemed a point to ask her how an athlete who has enjoyed such success continues to play with the burning motivation to stay at the top.
“I want to be the best, and I’ve always wanted to be the best,” Stewart said. “It came from my parents. They’ve humbled me through the entire process of my basketball career, making it so I was never satisfied.”
Never satisfied? What more could she have done?
“Yes, yes, I’ve done a lot of great things, so I’m not saying I’m not satisfied with that, but I want to do a lot more. I did exactly what I wanted to do in college,” Stewart said. “And that’s what I want to do here.”