Jewell Loyd is used to pressure. She was one of the top high school players in the country, whose every move, was followed by college coaches fighting to get her to join their program.
She enrolled at Notre Dame, a school that had won a national championship in 2001 and made it to the Final Four each of the two years preceding Loyd's arrival.
The second she stepped on campus, the pressure to win was immense. Loyd joined a roster that featured future WNBA stars Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa.
She was supposed to be the final piece that would lead the Fighting Irish to their elusive second title.
Loyd would not shy away from the challenge, making it to the Final Four each of her three years at Notre Dame and to the title game in her sophomore and junior seasons. Then Loyd did the unexpected and near unprecedented.
Less than a week removed from the National Championship game, she declared early for the WNBA draft. The move took the sports world by surprise, causing the media to take notice and question if the move was right for Loyd. Had she made the right decision? Was she truly ready to battle the toughest competition in the world?
If the initial pressure from the media was not enough, the Seattle Storm selected her first overall and launched a full-fledged campaign, naming her the heir apparent of Sue Bird as the face of the franchise. Within 24 hours of being drafted, Loyd would throw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game in front of 20,000 spectators. It was a literal ‘Welcome to the big leagues' moment.
By opening night of the WNBA season, the pressure on the 21-year-old was immense. The Storm sold out Key Arena as fans clamored to witness their new star shine. Initially, she would do anything but.
Through her first eight games Loyd struggled, averaging just 5.9 points, 1.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 28% from the field and missing all 12 of her three-point attempts. Let down by her own performance, she asked to be pulled from the starting lineup in hopes that seeing the game from a new angle would help her find her rhythm. Her plan worked to perfection.
On June 28th against her former teammate Skylar Diggins, Loyd erupted for 21 points and four rebounds off the bench. Since that performance, she has been far and away the best rookie in the league averaging 12.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. She also has found her shot, hitting 44.4% from the floor and 93.8% from the free throw line, good for second best in the league.
On August 30th, she broke the Storm franchise record for most free throws made in a game without a miss, hitting all 14 of her shots from the stripe. The performance broke the record of 13 held by three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. It is the first of what will surely be many records that will fall to Loyd in her career.
With her game improving, her confidence growing, and her opponents already fearing her, there is no question that she deserves to win an award even Jackson and Bird failed to claim and be named rookie of the year.
Winning an award that two of the greatest players in basketball history couldn't win will only put more pressure on Loyd, but if her career thus far has taught us anything, it's that pressure only makes her better.