The Seattle Storm’s first No. 1 overall pick from Connecticut and their most recent No. 1 pick from UConn stood together Thursday for the first time as professional teammates.
And while the Storm didn’t go so far as to proclaim Breanna Stewart the current centerpiece of the franchise as she stood next to Sue Bird, it was clear she will be in the future.
“I want to have an impact. Obviously the Storm drafted me here for a reason, and I want to live up to that,” Stewart said.
Thursday’s event to announce a new jersey sponsor for the franchise was the first public event for Stewart since being taken in last week’s WNBA draft. She was one of the least-debated top selections in league history. The 6-foot-4 forward was unanimously regarded as not just the top collegiate player, but also as having the best professional potential.
She’s provided buzz for a franchise that has slipped from its spot as one of the elite teams in the WNBA for most of the 2000s.
“You can definitely feel the excitement from the coaches, to the president to the GM,” Stewart said. “Everybody is excited and I’m excited. I couldn’t wait to get here and meet everyone. They’re trying to turn things around and make a change, and that is what’s happening.”
Stewart averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in leading the Huskies to a fourth consecutive national championship earlier this month. She became the first player in NCAA history to earn most outstanding player of the Final Four all four years. Bird called her a “walking mismatch” and said the inevitable comparisons to former Seattle star Lauren Jackson are warranted.
“She just has advantages all over the floor,” Bird said.
Stewart was the second straight No. 1 selection to end up in Seattle. The Storm took guard Jewell Loyd with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and added Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with the No. 3 overall pick last season. It’s a similar haul to what Seattle landed in 2001 and 2002 when the team took Jackson and Bird with consecutive No. 1 picks and was able to parlay that into two league titles.
Jackson recently announced her retirement but Bird is still around, having signed a multi-year contract extension in the offseason despite Seattle going 10-24 last season and missing the playoffs. She sees the potential of this group, even if it’s coming as her career is winding down.
“Last year we were young. We had talent, but we were very young and we were figuring things out, learning the league and what it’s like in the WNBA,” Bird said. “Now we’re a year older, all of us have that experience, we understand the league, we’re adding a very special player so I think there is a lot of promise there. There are going to be growing pains. Again, we’re young, but it’s something that is more exciting than I’ve felt here in a long time.”