The 6-foot-4 Stewart won four NCAA championships, was the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player four times and won the national Player of the Year award three times.
Thursday afternoon featured little drama. As expected, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, the Storm selected UConn’s Breanna Stewart and set in motion the chance for history to repeat itself.
The previous time the Storm had two consecutive No. 1 draft picks — in 2001 and 2002 — it selected Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. That dynamic duo turned Seattle into a WNBA power and went on to lead the Storm to championships in 2004 and 2010.
Jackson has since retired, but the Storm recently signed Bird to a multiyear deal in hopes she’ll help lead a young team that — as was the case in the early 2000s — will be anchored by two No. 1 draft picks: 2015 rookie Jewell Loyd and Stewart.
Height: 6-4.Position: Center.College: Connecticut.
Notable: Helped Huskies to record four consecutive NCAA titles. …. Only player to be named Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times. … Three-time unanimous AP All-America first-team selection. … Three-time national Player of the Year. … Averaged 17.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks as a senior.
Even though the Storm finished 10-24 last season and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, Loyd lived up to billing, averaging 10.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game en route to WNBA Rookie of the Year honors.
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But on Thursday, the spotlight was on Stewart, who wore a giant grin as she held up her new Storm jersey when her name was called at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“I was just so excited. Obviously a lot of people had their opinions of what they thought was gonna happen, but to have it finally happen and then walking on stage and holding that jersey was amazing,” Stewart said in a phone interview after she was drafted. “I haven’t been out to Seattle, but I’ve heard it’s a great city. Some people say it rains a lot, but I’ve also heard that that doesn’t happen in the summer, so that won’t be a problem.”
The Storm selected BYU’s Lexi Eaton Rydalch with its third-round selection (No. 26 overall). The 5-foot-10 guard averaged 17.9 points and was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year.
Considered a generational talent, Stewart is the only player in NCAA history with 300 career blocks and 300 career assists.
The 6-foot-4 All-American center led UConn to four consecutive national championships and finished her career with four Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards and a 151-5 record. Stewart’s dominance in the paint, deft shooting touch and ballhandling skills of a guard make her a tough matchup for just about any team.
President and general manager Alisha Valavanis said the Storm thoroughly vetted the top draft-eligible players, but that selecting Stewart was ultimately a no-brainer.
“In terms of due diligence, we took a look at the entire class coming in,” Valavanis said. “But Stewie was the front-runner from the beginning. It was clear as we went through the process that she was the No. 1 pick.
“From what we hear, she’s going to be a great addition to the team in terms of her personality, character and integrity.”
Lexi Eaton Rydalch
Height: 5-10.Position: Guard.College: BYU.
Notable: Averaged 17.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists and was West Coast Conference Player of Year in 2015-16. … set WCC career points record for men & women, topping the mark of 2,490 by the late Hank Gathers. … Three-time All-WCC first-team pick in basketball and was a high jumper in track & field.
Stewart, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., will be tasked with helping the Storm complete the rebuilding process it began when Loyd was drafted last year. She knows there are high expectations that go with being the overall No. 1 pick, but as she points out, high expectations are nothing new for her.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of expectations when you come to the pro level, but when I came to college as a high-school senior, there were a lot of expectations, too,” Stewart said. “It’s just knowing how to prepare yourself for that and how to respond when your name is called.”
The biggest difference between college and WNBA basketball is the sheer physicality of the pro game. But Stewart said she’s not overly concerned about adapting to the WNBA game because she already has had an opportunity to test herself against some of the top WNBA talent during her stints with the national team and knows what to expect.
The Storm is acutely aware that it’s poised for long-term success.
“It’s just a really unique opportunity to have back-to-back No. 1 picks,” Valavanis said. “The last time it happened for our franchise, and the impact it had, we know how special it is to have two players of this caliber on one roster. We couldn’t overstate how excited we are to have back-to-back No. 1s.”
But Valavanis is quick to downplay any talk about how Stewart’s selection could result in the second coming of the dynasty that was built around Bird and Jackson.
“We’re really focused on what it means today and how we’re continuing to grow and rebuild,” Valavanis said. “From my vantage point, we’re certainly talking about the long gain, but not putting our expectations on what it means from one year or two years.
“We’re focusing on where we’re going and how this year builds from last year. We’re really confident we’re following our game plan and moving in that direction. Stewie is a really important piece in that.”
|Storming through the draftStorm first-round draft picks, including overall selection, school or country and year:No.
Information in this article, originally published April 14, 2016 was corrected April 15, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly in a photo caption identified WNBA president Lisa Borders as Leslie Borders.