Stewart a star on the court, 'normal kid' off it
Updated 11:37 am, Sunday, November 4, 2012
STORRS -- Her resume is impressive. No UConn women's player, upon joining the program, has been more accomplished.
Breanna Stewart won countless prestigious national awards during her career at Cicero-North Syracuse (N.Y.) High School. She has won multiple gold medals as part of her affiliation with USA Basketball. And, at 6-foot-4, her extraordinary skill set provides her with the liberty to push the ball up the floor like a guard, face up to the basket on the wing where she can score from the perimeter or off the dribble, or post up on the block.
Not since four-time first-team All-American and 2012 Olympian Maya Moore arrived on the UConn campus in 2007 has there been this much hype surrounding a single recruit. Yet, while Stewart has excelled on the court, off the court, she slips into the role of an everyday college freshman.
Sure, her height and her 7-foot-1 wingspan are dead giveaways that she is a member of the Huskies. Aside from that, though, she only has a desire to fit in on and off the court.
Stewart has an appreciation for community service. She's also a practical joker.
More InformationElite company Freshman Breanna Stewart is the eighth National High School Player of the Year to play at UConn. Here is a list of those players, with the year they won the award and how they fared with the Huskies. 1994, Nykesha Sales: First-team All-American in 1997 and 1998; ranked third in team history in scoring (2,178) and first in steals (447); won national championship in 1995; signed by the WNBA and assigned to the Orlando Miracle in 1998. 1996, Shea Ralph: First-team All-American in 2000; ranked 12th in team history in scoring (1,278), 12th in assists (456) and seventh in steals (252); won national championship in 2000; selected in the third round of the WNBA draft by the Utah Starzz in 2001. 1998, Tamika Williams: ranked 22nd in team history in scoring (1,402), 14th in rebounds (763), first in field goal percentage (.703) and 17th in steals (187); won national championship in 2002; selected No. 6 overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2002. 2000, Diana Taurasi: National Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004; three-time first-team All-American in 2002, 2003, 2004; ranked fifth in team history in scoring (2,156), first in assists (648) and made 3-pointers (318), third in steals (310) and eighth in blocks (147); won three straight national championships from 2002-04; selected No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2004. 2005, Tina Charles: National Player of the Year in 2010; first-team All-American in 2009 and 2010; ranked second in team history in scoring (2,346), first in rebounds (1,367), third in field goal percentage (.610) and third in blocks (304); won two national championships in 2009 and 2010; selected No. 1 overall by the Connecticut Sun in 2010. 2006, 2007, Maya Moore: National Player of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2010; four-time first-team All-American; ranked first in team history in scoring (3,036), second in rebounds (1,276), sixth in assists (544), third in steals (310) and fourth in blocks (204); was part of an NCAA-record 90-game winning streak and the national championship in 2009 and 2010; selected No. 1 overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2011. 2011, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis: Named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament and was the Big East Freshman of the Year last season; Led the team in scoring (15.0 average) 2012, Breanna Stewart: TBD -- RICH ELLIOTT
"She's just a normal kid," said UConn freshman Moriah Jefferson, who is Stewart's roommate. "She's like one of the funniest people you'll ever meet. She's crazy, silly.
"She's doing everything that she should. She's a good person to be around. And she's a great influence on everybody's life."
Stewart does not take herself seriously, which makes her even more of an endearing presence. This is player who signed her national Letter of Intent on the hood of her Honda CRV outside of her father Brian's office in downtown Syracuse. She did not see the need to have a high-profile ceremony at her high school.
`HER OWN GOOFY'
Many of her new teammates have characterized Stewart as "goofy" and someone who enjoys having fun. UConn fifth-year senior Caroline Doty said that Stewart and junior center Stefanie Dolson, a playful goofball in her own right, make up quite the pair when they are together.
"You would never know that she was the national Gatorade Player of the Year," Doty said. "She's her own goofy. You just have to watch her. There's no explaining how goofy she is. A good goofy. Like a funny goofy."
When it comes to practical jokes, Stewart teams with Jefferson, and fellow Huskies' newbie and next-door neighbor Morgan Tuck has been a regular target.
"I think the last thing (we did to to Tuck) was a box of Capri Sun (juice)," Stewart said. "Just put it underneath her sheets ... she'll lay down on the box of Capri Sun."
The two shoot Tuck with Nerf guns. They hit her with pillows. Jefferson admitted that they do basically anything to get a rise out of Tuck.
"Me and her have a lot of fun messing with Morgan," Jefferson said. "So we'll do like little pranks and jokes. But I love Breanna on and off the court."
On the court, her success athletically is easily measured by statistics, wins and awards.
She amassed 2,367 points, 1,389 rebounds, 337 assists, 325 steals and 634 blocks in 119 games over five varsity seasons at Cicero-North. Stewart led the Northstars to an 84-13 record (.866) over the last four seasons, including winning the state Class AA Federation championship and being recognized as the consensus national player of the year as a senior in 2011-12.
"You can't tell she's a tremendous basketball player until you see her play," said Eric Smith, Stewart's coach at Cicero-North. "If you talk to her, she's an average, everyday teenager who loves to have fun, hang out with friends, go to the movies, joke around. And then she gets on the court and she can flip the switch and she'll rip your head off because she's just that type of competitor."
But there's more to Stewart than just a great player. Smith said that Stewart would spend 30 to 45 minutes following every game signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans no matter how well she had played.
"It's not something that is a burden to me or anything like that when that happens," Stewart said. "It's just something I did. Unless someone told me we had to leave, I would sign every autograph that people wanted."
Stewart, too, has been known to go down the road to shoot baskets with a girl who idolized her. She once mailed a handwritten card thanking a middle school boy who had taken the time to present her with a newspaper article that she had not yet seen.
"Just the caring and the thoughtfulness that she had, that wasn't provoked by anything, that she had that understanding and knew without flaunting it the impact she had," Smith said. "And never, ever (when I was) arranging anything for her did she ever say a bad word. `No problem, Coach.' There was always a `Thank you.' She always was giving of her time to everybody."
Stewart, an A-minus student, has also made a concerted effort to give back to the community whenever it has been possible. She has volunteered at the March of Dimes, Ronald McDonald House, The Salvation Army and the Special Olympics.
Stewart served as a youth basketball instructor at the YMCA in Syracuse. She served as an instructor at the North Syracuse Optimist Girls Basketball Program, was an organizer at the Star Leadership seminar at Cicero-North and was a volunteer for the Youth Literacy-Outreach.
"I take more pride in things I'm able to do off the court just because you can't play basketball forever," Stewart said. "But you can always do something in your community for as long as you'd like. To be recognized off the court is very important just because you want to show people that you're not only a basketball player, that you're a good person as well."
Stewart has made too many community-minded appearances over the past few years to even venture a guess at the number. Not only did she volunteer at the local charitable organizations in New York, Stewart also did book readings at a school or at Barnes & Noble.
"The kids get so excited," Stewart said. "What I get out of volunteering, I guess, just has to be that feeling that you've helped out with something, whether it's working with little kids, playing basketball and just helping them or making them feel good or having a good time. It just makes me happy that they're excited and that's what makes me want to do more."
Stewart spent time at the 2nd Annual Turn-Around Jumpers 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament at Le Moyne College on June 11-12, 2011. The event raised nearly $30,000 to benefit The Salvation Army's programs and services.
The tournament featured male and female competitors ages 8 to 55. Stewart aided in various skill clinics and posed for pictures with the attendees.
"She was just a great presence at the event," said Greg Meitus, the public relations and marketing manager for The Salvation Army of the Syracuse area. "Their faces just lit up. Especially with the girls, but the boys, too.
"I think it just shows her commitment to the community and giving back. She is a very unassuming person. She doesn't have a big ego."
Stewart's presence can be infectious. It took her no time at all to develop a friendly relationship with then first-year Cicero-North principal Melissa Julian last year. In fact, Stewart perhaps spent more time in the principal's office than any of her peers would ever care to do. And it had nothing to do with discipline.
"It was always a good thing," Stewart said as she chuckled. "But whenever I was walking past the office, I would just stop in and say `hi' to the secretary and the principal and we would just always have a nice conversation. I was just like that with a lot of my teachers. I just enjoyed talking to them as normal people."
"She has a tremendous heart and a huge heart," Julian said. "To be honest, I miss her being in the building because she just had such a presence about her and she was very sweet. She's the kind of student that we wish all of our students were. She's very into school, but not just athletics. She's a great young lady."
Stewart admits that she does not consider herself to be a celebrity. There have been plenty of instances when she has been out at the mall or in other public locales when she has realized that people were watching her. But, as she puts it, she's just a normal person.
"She's just Bre," Brian Stewart said. "She's really not about herself. Don't get me wrong, she's thrilled she's got some of the awards that she's got and she's proud of them. But she doesn't talk about it."
Said UConn All-American Bria Hartley: "I think that's a credit to her and everything that she's worked for. And she stayed humble all through high school, all through everything. I think that gets you really far in life, just being really humble and just being appreciative of everything that's around you."
Stewart, who was selected as the Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year, has evolved into a star on and off the court. She has touched the lives of people of all ages in recent years. Nothing is expected to change now that she is a member of the Huskies.
"I tell everybody that I won the professional lottery coaching her," Smith said. "She is the best basketball player, and when her college career is done, it's going to be mentioned with the greats. And she's a better person than that and that's the kind of kid she is. There's no blindfold or there's no, `OK, she puts on this front.' She really is this kid."
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