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UConn Women’s Basketball Auriemma reflects on Breanna Stewart

December 31, 2018

STORRS — It wasn’t so much an opinion as it was an indisputable fact. Breanna Stewart could retire today and have a place among the greats.

“You know, if Stewie retired today she would go down as one of the greatest basketball players in the history of college and women’s basketball,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma proclaimed during a recent practice. “And she’s how old? 24? She never has to play another game to be considered one of the best that’s ever played.”

Stewart’s 2018 season alone was one to behold. Her on-the-court accomplishments were nothing short of extraordinary: a WNBA championship, regular season and Finals MVP awards, FIBA World Cup gold medal.

Auriemma, now in his 34th season with the Huskies, was reminded of a familiar refrain when reflecting on Stewart’s remarkable run of success.

“What’s the No. 1 thing I always tell our young players?” Auriemma said. “Until they start putting age restrictions on how great you can be, then it’s available to anybody. For her to be able to do that at such a young age speaks more to not just her talent level but her maturity as a player.”

Age is just a number — a fact that UConn legends Sue Bird (38 years old) and Diana Taurasi (36) continue to validate.

“People grow up in different eras,” Auriemma continued. “You can get a lot older, but that doesn’t mean you’re growing up.”

Stewart, in only her third season since being drafted first overall by the Seattle Storm, averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. That performance, coupled with her achievements on the international stage, earned Stewart a distinct honor: USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year.

Of course, none of this surprises Auriemma, who watched Stewart win four straight national championships at UConn. If anything, it has him wondering what’s next in Stewart’s already brilliant career.

“That’s kind of up to Stewie,” Auriemma said. “If Stewie wants to rest on her laurels (she’ll) go, ‘You know what, I’m pretty good, I’m pretty famous and I’ve accomplished a lot’ — which I can’t ever see happening. Knowing Stewie, there’s probably the same motivation that she had when she came to college. Stewie said, ‘OK, well we won a WNBA championship, and I want a world championship.’

“OK, so what’s next? ‘Well, I want to win a whole bunch of WNBA championships and I want to be the best player on the Olympic team, which I haven’t been yet.’ ”

What’s next? The question lends itself to a world of possibilities for someone who has been a champion not just on the field, but off the field. Stewart, who revealed last year in the Players Tribune that she was sexually abused as a child, has been a vocal figure in the #MeToo movement. She shared more about her story in an E:60 interview in June before appearing in ESPN’s Body Issue.

“What’s next for her off the court?” Auriemma asked. “That’s kind of up to Stewie how far she wants to stretch herself. She did a little bit this year with her personal story, but I’m sure she’s going to have opportunities going forward to be more than just a basketball player.

“I hope she takes advantage of that.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour

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