She’s about halfway through her rookie season for the Seattle Storm, and Breanna Stewart has already lost one more game than she did throughout all four years of college play at UConn. And that’s not an insult to the Storm. That’s an homage to the unprecedented, unparalleled, and altogether insane basketball magic that came out of Connecticut during her reign. Stewart led her team to four consecutive NCAA titles, earning the Most Outstanding Player award each time.
Now after the Storm selected the most decorated women's college basketball player in history with the first pick in the WNBA Draft this past April, she’s up for Female Athlete of the Year at the upcoming ESPY’s and just inked a huge deal with Nike. Things don’t seem to be looking down for her anytime soon.
We caught up with Stewart before the Storm take on the Liberty at Madison Square Garden Wednesday afternoon to talk about dunking, the comparisons to KD, the time Geno Auriemma forgot he was running her at practice, and trying to figure out how the WNBA can attract more viewers.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Aside from the paycheck, what’s been the main difference between the pros and college?
I think it’s the free time and independence to decide what you wanna do. I don’t have class, I don’t have other obligations besides what the Storm wants. So it’s basically, I can do what I want. I mean it’s nice.
No class is definitely a good change.
Oh, it’s huge [laughs].
As a rookie in the league, do you have any good hazing stories?
No. The Storm haven’t really done any rookie initiation or anything, which is nice for me. Honestly, I don’t even think we look that far into it. Like yeah I’m a rookie, and there’s been some situations that I haven’t been in, but I don’t think anybody is really pointing out. You know, they’re just treating me like another teammate.
You went first overall followed by teammates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck in the WNBA Draft. What’s it been like playing against your former teammates and friends in the league?
It’s been really weird. Especially playing against [Tuck] and [Jefferson] because I’m used to being on their team. But it’s where we want to be in our basketball careers and obviously we didn’t think that we’d all be on the same team; I think that was nearly impossible. But it’s nice just to see that they’re doing well adjusting and kind of finding their own niche.
It’s not that I don’t like the comparisons to NBA players, like being compared to KD is obviously a huge honor, but it’s going back to the whole separate but equal thing.
You honestly haven’t lost much throughout your career. As of now, the Storm are 6-10 and in 5th place in the Western Conference. Has it been hard to adjust to a team with different expectations after coming from the most successful college program ever?
I think it’s different. I’ve been telling a lot of people, [losing] is just part of the game. When you play basketball, you win and lose games, and there’s gonna be an adjustment period and learning to understand what’s going on. And obviously I don’t want to lose 10 games, but especially in the WNBA where games come and go so quickly, you have to focus on the next one. You can’t really stay in the past with the games because that gets you down even more. You have to have the UConn mentality, the mentality of wanting to win every single game, wanting to win every single thing and making sure that stays throughout this entire process.
Your teammate Sue Bird is also a former UConn player. Has she helped you with the transition?
Oh yeah, she’s helped me a lot. Just the fact that she’s been in almost every single position, her experience and what she does on the court speaks for itself. Knowing that I have someone like Sue Bird to help me on and off the court is huge.
Favorite Geno Auriemma story?
Awh man [laughs]. It’s not my favorite, but it’s one that I’ll probably remember forever. My freshman year we were doing a drill and I missed the box out and one of our practice players came up with the ball. And he stopped the whole practice and was like, “Stewie, you see those stairs?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Run them.” So I was running those stairs for like 30 minutes in practice. And then he forgot about me. So one of the assistant coaches had to remind him that you know, I’m still up there running.
Auriemma has made some controversial comments about the women’s game. He suggested lowering the WNBA nets to make the games more exciting, and thought Mark Cuban shouldn’t have offered Brittney Griner a spot in the NBA because she wouldn’t be able to keep up. What do you think about being separate but equal as a woman in the WNBA?
I think it’s huge. I think it’s important to get to that level of being equal, and honestly we’re not there yet. We are separate, but we’re not completely equal. And that’s why we need to continue to grow the game and build off of what we’ve done, and what past players have done, for women’s basketball and the WNBA. I think it’s getting better, but there’s still a ways to go.
What do you think could get better specifically?
I think for us, the main difference is the community reach. [We’re] trying to reach a bigger community beyond women’s basketball. Why are we not reaching the whole basketball community if we’re playing the same sport?
There’s some pretty popular videos of you dunking on Youtube. Would you feel comfortable enough to dunk in a WNBA game if the opportunity presented itself?
If I had the opportunity, yeah, I don’t think I would overthink it too much. I know how to dunk, and if I miss it’s not that big of a deal. It would get a big reaction out of the people who were in attendance, that’s for sure.
What do you think about lowering the rim in the WNBA?
Honestly, I don’t think that would be beneficial. If you look at the bigger picture, I don’t know how it would work. How are you gonna lower the rims for all the playgrounds? Are you gonna have two separate playgrounds for boys to play on and for girls to play on? We don’t need to lower the rims, we need to get better and the pool of talent needs to get bigger.
You’re up for an ESPY for Female Athlete of the Year. Have you put any thought into what you might say if you win?
Nah, I haven’t even gotten that far. I haven’t even figured out what I’m gonna be wearing and that’s huge. So hopefully I’ll figure that out within the next couple days.
I’ve read that you prefer comparisons to female athletes, rather than players like Kevin Durant. Who are some of your favorite female athletes?
Maya Moore, obviously, Candace [Parker], Elena Delle Don. The ones that have the versatility. It’s not that I don’t like the comparisons to NBA players, like being compared to KD is obviously a huge honor, but it’s going back to the whole separate but equal thing.