Eastbay and Nike teamed up to provide an all-access look into basketball’s brightest young stars. These athletes are tomorrow’s biggest superstars, and we wanted to peer into their mindset. Scoop Jackson conducted the interviews. He writes for espn.com and ESPN The Magazine, and he also appears on ESPN Radio and TV Shows. He worked as a copywriter and author for Nike from 2001-2005 and has previously worked for XXL Magazine, Slam Magazine, and other publications.
Jackson sat down with Breanna Stewart, who recently won the Rookie of the Year award by averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, and nearly 2 blocks per game. Before being taken with the first overall pick by Seattle, Stewart won four national championships at UConn and picked up three-straight National Player of the Year awards. Check out the Q&A between the two, where they discuss Stewart’s upbringing, how she developed her game, and what’s next for her.
Scoop Jackson: Was there a specific court growing up where the Breanna Stewart legend was born?
Breanna Stewart: There was a gym downtown. It was cool, because when I was younger I went with my dad. My dad played. He played pick up – he didn’t play anything like college or anything like that, but he played pick up down there. You know three-on-three, five-on-five. Saturday morning, Sunday morning, I used to go with him. And at first it was just me hanging out with other kids down there – you know not even interested in basketball – but just being there. And then eventually as it progressed over time, we started going down there for me. And he was going for me, and we would play one-on-one, and he used to beat me. And then eventually we got to a point where I was growing with my body to figure out if I had some type of skill set, and then I would beat him. And I remember it’s funny just because I would go through all these losses, one-on-one, getting frustrated and throwing the ball and then all of the sudden, I’m on the other spectrum of things.
I heard you once say that you weren’t born a basketball player, but you pushed yourself to be one. Is that true?
Yes, that’s definitely true. I think that growing up I was one of those kids that – my parents put me into sports to keep me busy. I had no idea which one I was going to like or any type of thing like that. I played in community leagues and then central league – getting involved in AAU and that kind of thing. But, I really had to work hard and try to build my skill set and learn how to use my body. I had this long, lanky, stick-figure frame when I was younger. I mean, I guess I’m still like a stick figure, but not as much. But to kind of by aware of my body, I mean, obviously I’m pigeon toed, so learning to not trip over my own feet when I’m running up the court or dribbling the basketball and that type of thing.
What about the game pulled you in and pushed you to reach that level of a basketball player?
I think it was just a competitiveness in me. I loved playing basketball because of the relationships that you create and the friendships you have. Some of my best friends were on the first basketball team I was ever on. But also on the competitive side, I was in practice and I couldn’t push on things that they could. So I remember it was winter time, and we were doing a drill in the gym where you dribble the ball between your legs up to half court and that kind of thing and so on and I couldn’t do it. And I remember our basement wasn’t finished in our house, and I would go down to the basement and figure out how to dribble between my legs so that next time I went to practice I wasn’t the one person that was struggling to dribble between their legs.
Is there an underdog mentality inside of you that makes you work harder on the game and hustle harder on the court?
I think that when I was younger, it seem liked I was the – I mean not an underdog, but I was still trying to prove myself. Offense wasn’t my first skill set. Defense was a lot easier, because you didn’t have to shoot the ball or dribble the ball or anything like that. All you have to do is rebound it and try to block the shot. So that came a little bit more naturally to me. And then trying to evolve my game so it wasn’t one-sided or two-sided, it was multi-dimensional. Just showing people that I wasn’t the player I was last summer, last year, and continuing to grow my game.
Throughout your career, have you looked at your height as a gift or a curse?
Oh, I think it’s a gift. When I was younger, I was always taller than everyone in the classroom and that kind of thing. I think that it was good for me. Just that it makes you feel uncomfortable, because you’re different and that kind of thing, but I think I just really embraced it. Other than the fact that, you know, finding long-sleeved clothes is a little difficult, it’s put me in this great position to become such a versatile player that not that many people are fortunate enough to have this body type.
That’s the thing. You had to work on other aspects of your game, because you never wanted to be looked at as just a tall basketball player. You wanted to be looked at as a complete ball player, correct?
Exactly. I remember my dad saying that you don’t want to be the player that just runs to the ball. And that’s what you’re good for, that’s your one spot. You want to be the player that can go play all over the place, inside and outside the three-point line. That’s what I tried to do. And as I got older and figured it out, you know, decided to shoot a three pointer. He would ask before games, just shoot one three pointer, shoot it. Just because I wouldn’t. And then once I started to I started to realize that I could really lift my game in a whole bunch of different directions.
Do you feel that you’ve figured the game of basketball out yet, or no?
I think I’m still figuring it out. I’m only 22. This is my first year in the WNBA, in the professional level. There are still some things I haven’t done that I would like to do.
People have been talking about your game and what we think is going to happen with your career ever since you stepped foot in UConn. And I know it’s kind of early, and I just want to know, how do you not get caught up in people talking about your legacy already?
It’s hard. It’s hard sometimes when people say, “You’re going to be the change in women’s basketball.” And that’s great – that’s exactly what I want to do, but I have a long way to go. It’s humbling, and it’s motivating because people can see that and see the potential and that kind of thing. And it really helps me in what I do and how I continue to transform my game.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content, clarity, and length.