It will likely be a while until we see another women’s player like Breanna Stewart. Standing at 6’4″, the Syracuse native is coming off six straight championships—two in high school and four at the University of Connecticut—and on Thursday, the Seattle Storm selected her with the No. 1 overall pick.
The NBPA’s Michael Goldsholl caught up with the UConn legend at the WNBA draft as she prepared for the next step in her already storied career. Their conversation touched on draft week highlights, memories with the Huskies, preparation for the WNBA, how the ladies’ game is changing, Kobe’s Bryant legacy and her off-the-court interests.
Michael Goldsholl: What’s been the coolest part of draft week for you?
Breanna Stewart: I would say the coolest part of draft week is just having the opportunity to be around the other players that are invited here. I’m having a great time obviously, but also when the legends come in and the current players and share their knowledge, that’s cool to hear.
MG: Any players here you’re close friends with or have bonded with?
BS: I’ve hung out with a lot of them. Throughout college, I’ve created some type of relationship with them. I played USA basketball with Imani [Boyette], with Tiff [Tiffany Mitchell]. Rachel [Banham] and I were just at an event last week in L.A. together. Jonquel [Jones], she was in the high school All-American game when we were seniors. You can go down the entire list and I’m familiar with all of them.
MG: Going from a successful team at UConn to a team with the No. 1 pick, how does that motivate you?
BS: I think that it’s a new challenge and new chapter. Everything I did at UConn is great and that’s not going to change. What I did at UConn is done, and now it’s time to start over and do something else somewhere else.
MG: Which title has been the most special to you and why?
BS: I would say winning it this year, my senior year, has been the most special. There was something about this team where it was the most fun, most enjoyable one that I’ve had my entire career. When you’re a senior and you win, there’s not a lot of feelings better than that.
MG: You made good on a promise in 2012 when you said you wanted to win four titles. Can you reflect on that?
BS: It’s not a lot of words to describe that. I think when I came in and I was a freshman, I wasn’t shy about stating what I wanted. To be able to four years later look back on it and say I did that, it shows a lot of things. It shows that we can do things that people think are impossible.
MG: At what point did that all sink in?
BS: After we won this year. The three seniors all walked off the court at the same time and that’s when we really realized, “Wow, we really did this. We did something that’s never been done before.” There’s not a lot of words to describe it.
MG: Who were your biggest mentors at UConn?
BS: I think that you can name a lot of people. UConn is a family. You see that with how many people come back to watch the Final Fours, the national championship game. I would say players like Sue [Bird], Maya [Moore], Tina [Charles] and Dee [Diana Taurasi]—just because I’ve had the opportunity to play USA basketball with them. Especially this year, they’re saying, “Just enjoy it. Enjoy it and a lot is going to happen, but make sure you remember these moments.”
MG: What role has Geno Auriemma played in your life?
BS: Coach has played a huge role in my life. When I came in as a freshman we butted heads. There’s no other way to look at it besides that. Now, looking back on it, and what he’s been able to do for me, how he’s been able to change my mentality on things, he made me a better person, a better player. He’s done something that I don’t know anyone else would have been able to do for me. It changed my life. Coming in as a freshman and leaving the way I did as a senior, he put me on the right track. I hope I had an impact on him. We both treasure that relationship that we’ve created over these years. Even though I’m not going to be at UConn any more, it’ll still continue.
MG: What will you miss most about being a college athlete?
BS: The one thing I’ll miss most about being at UConn is just the relationships. Being with that team for four years, people come and people leave, but the team still has the same kind of feel to it. The relationships we’ve created over those four years, those are really strong and I’m sure that they’ll continue well after college.
MG: What are some aspects of UConn that people might not know about?
BS: I would say just from playing at UConn, playing with and against other players, the one thing we do that separates us from everyone else is how hard we work. No matter our talent level or anything like that, we’re not going to let anyone work harder than us.
MG: How have you been preparing for the WNBA?
BS: Right now, I’m kind of taking a little break because we did just finish, and I have to take a break because it’s not going to come for a while. But I am really happy that I was able to train and play at the national level against all the pros in this country and overseas. I was able to learn about that physicality and play with the physicality that they’re all talking about. There’s still going to be an adjustment, but I’m happy that I’ve played against it before.
MG: What are you doing with your down time?
BS: Just taking some time off and the R&R. You have to do it at some point or else you’re going to burn out. The professional career of a woman is you go in the WNBA and then you go overseas. Hopefully the Olympics tie into there this summer. It can be a lot, but you have to make sure you’re enjoying the time off because it’s just as important as the time on the court.
MG: The NBA is seeing a faster pace in its game play. Do you see the WNBA moving towards that?
BS: I definitely think that it’s going to become faster paced. You can see that with all the rules. At the last training camp we had, we played with those rules—the 24-second shot clock and the 14 seconds on the rebound, and that kind of stuff. It definitely makes it a lot faster, but when the game is faster it’s more exciting. It’s more enjoyable for the players, fans, everybody.
MG: Tell us something that people may be surprised about you.
BS: I’m occasionally a good bowler.
MG: Unique rituals or hobbies?
BS: I don’t do anything crazy. I listen to music and just get ready. I’m going to be on the court getting shots up.
MG: Specific songs?
BS: Lately it’s been [the rapper] Future. Future has dropped a lot of songs this year, albums this year, mixtapes. I like Rihanna’s song “Work.” I’d listen to that like 100 times in a row if I could.
MG: Finally, what was Kobe’s impact on you?
BS: For any basketball player, if you don’t look up to Kobe and see the success that he’s had on the court, then I don’t know what you’re watching. It was huge, seeing him play the last time. It was probably the same as when people thought about watching Michael Jordan play the last time.