For the first time in — she doesn’t know when — Breanna Stewart enters a basketball season rested and relaxed. It took a knee injury to finally slow down the Seattle Storm star and halt what she described as a “crazy whirlwind.”
For the first time in — she doesn’t know when — Breanna Stewart enters a basketball season rested and relaxed.
It took a knee injury to finally slow down the Seattle Storm star and halt what she described as a “crazy whirlwind,” in which she has been on the go since the start of her senior season (2015-16) at Connecticut.
Stewart sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee Jan. 7 while playing for Shanghai Baoshan Dahua in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association.
She returned to the United States two weeks later and spent the winter in Los Angeles rehabbing the first significant injury of her playing career.
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“It was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” Stewart said this week at Storm practice. “It gave me some time off because my year before that was nonstop.
“I just relaxed. I was in L.A., so I was enjoying the weather. Did a lot of shopping. Just enjoying being back in the United States.”
Stewart took a trip to Aruba for vacation. She also flew to Dallas and watched in disbelief as Mississippi State handed her former team, Connecticut, a 66-64 upset overtime defeat in the NCAA women’s tournament semifinals that snapped the Huskies’ record 111-game winning streak and a run of four consecutive national championships.
Despite the heartbreaking defeat, it was a blissful three-month respite for Stewart.
“Oh my God, I don’t even know when I’ve had this much time off,” she said. “Maybe in high school. Maybe. I’ve always been going from one commitment to the other.”
The past year had been exceptionally taxing on the 6-foot-4, 170-pound forward.
Stewart, who went 151-5 at UConn, capped a brilliant college career in April 2016 with her fourth NCAA championship and fourth most outstanding player of the tournament award. She earned consensus player-of-the-year honors for the third straight year.
Nine days after the title game, she was taken No. 1 overall in the 2016 WNBA draft.
Midway through the season, Stewart jetted to Brazil in August and helped the U.S. women’s team win an Olympic gold medal.
She returned to Seattle and led the Storm to a 16-18 finish and its first WNBA playoff berth after a two-year absence.
Stewart captured the league’s Rookie of the Year award in a nearly unanimous vote.
She led all rookies with 18.3 points (sixth overall in the WNBA), 9.3 rebounds (second) and 1.9 blocks (third).
A week after a 94-85 playoff loss at Atlanta ended her rookie season, Stewart flew to China for the four-month WCBA season.
Playing overseas during the winter is common for women’s basketball stars and Stewart likely earned several times her WNBA salary, which pays her $51,630 in 2017, according to the league’s collective-bargaining agreement. (In 2014, the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner reportedly earned about $600,000 while playing for a WCBA team).
Stewart, who is from North Syracuse, N.Y., had never lived overseas or visited Asia. Admittedly, she didn’t know much about China or Chinese culture.
She quickly discovered the WCBA, which allows just one foreign player per team, has a well-earned reputation for physical play.
“The refs don’t give many calls, if any, to American players,” said Storm guard Jewell Loyd, who played in China for Shanxi Flame. “Stewie got banged around quite a bit. But she adjusted.”
In her second game, Stewart tallied 46 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and five steals.
Before her injury, Stewart dominated while averaging 31.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 33.6 minutes in 27 games for Shanghai, which would finish 18-17.
The only players to post a higher scoring average in China were the New York Liberty’s Tina Charles (35.7) and the Connecticut Sun’s Chiney Ogwumike (33.6).
“I got hurt with three games left in the season and wish I could have finished out and played in the playoffs,” Stewart said. “I got back (to the United States) Jan. 20 and started rehabbing that day.
“But that’s a lot different than being on the court and the physical pounding of basketball. So I had time for myself. To recharge the battery, so to speak.”
During the offseason, Storm coach Jenny Boucek spent time reflecting on Stewart’s amazing rookie campaign and plotting how the 22-year-old sensation can improve in Year 2.
“If we can get her three-point shooting up to 40 percent … I don’t know how you guard her,” Boucek said. “That can happen this year. She’s close. She just needs to adjust to the speed of our game and the length that she’s going against and the line being a little bit further back.”
Stewart, who shot 42.6 percent on three-pointers as a senior sat UConn, was 33.8 percent (45 of 133) behind the arc for the Storm.
“I just want to continue to develop and expand my game,” said Stewart, who shot 44 percent (55 of 125) on three-pointers with Shanghai. “Just giving them a hard time on defense and making it difficult for teams to guard us offensively.
“Whether it’s the post up or the three, you want to get better. But more than anything, I’ve been working on the in-between game. I want to develop the off-the-dribble stuff, especially when the bigs are closing out on me. If I can do that, then that’s hard to guard.”
Stewart, a long and lithe post player with point-guard skills who can defend all five positions, is a matchup nightmare and the prototype of today’s game akin to the NBA’s Kevin Durant.
In January, the Storm traded for 6-6 center Carolyn Swords, a rebounder and defensive stalwart, in a deal that should move Stewart out of the post and give her more freedom to dominate on the wing.
“As good as Stewie is, she still has a lot of upside and she’s still really raw,” Boucek said. “There’s a lot that she has to learn about how to play and read and to counter things. She’ll learn to save and pick and choose her energy differently. … She’ll just get craftier. It’s what experience does.
“She’s a great player. One of the best in the world, but she’s got a chance to be the best in the world, in my opinion.”