What were you doing on the brink of your 22nd birthday?
For some, it’s the final era of “the best years of your life,” college. For others, it’s an uncomfortable gray area that tempers the human psyche with the every pressuring question: is 22 really considered being an adult?
Today’s society has very different views on the concept of age, maturity, which are undeniably different than generations passed.
Age of maturity, has, in essence, become a case-by-case situation.
But for one 6’4,” lengthy North Syracuse native, maturity started well before her twenties.
Yes, for the Seattle Storm forward/center, Breanna Stewart grew up quite quickly, reaching 5’10” before the age of 13 and eventually surpassing her parents Brian and Heather Stewart.
With dad, Brian, an avid men’s basketball fan by nature of geographical reason, the thicket of Syracuse men’s basketball orange a staple in her hometown, Breanna was exposed early to the love of basketball.
"Dribbling around [my] block definitely started things.” explained Stewart in an interview with ESPN, “It made me realize if I could get better at dribbling, I could get better at shooting and do other things that would make it tough to play against me.”
And she did get better, much better.
The Stewie Report: In four seasons at UCONN, Stewart lead the Huskies to a 151-5 record, four consecutive NCAA titles (the first Division I women’s basketball program to do so), four Most Outstanding Players awards, UCONN’s all-time leading blocker (414), and was the 2016 WNBA No. 1 Overall Draft Pick by the Seattle Storm.
Stewart, whose fandom for the University of North Carolina women’s program growing up was a borderline obsession, opted to commit to Geno Auriemma’s UCONN phenomena during her junior year of high school.
The large selling point was her eagerness to join the ranks of greats that had come before her, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird. All her current teammates she plays alongside on this year’s national team in Rio.
But, little to Stewart’s dismay, and much to Auriemma’s greed-stricken desire to continue to cultivate talent, she would create an era all her own.
The “Stewie” reign was unlike anything Auriemma had seen before. The appreciation for Stewart’s style of play is in the way she remains dominant, yet bashfully calm in the face of pressure.
Sustaining total equilibrium, while the heat boils well over the top.
However, this “calm, cool, and collected” demeanor is largely a result of being comfortable in her own skin; the reality that maturity came much sooner for young Stewart.
As reported by ESPN, Stewart’s high school coach at Cicero-North Syracuse, Eric Smith explained it as such:
”Her mental ability is what sets her apart. She is so even-keeled, even when she isn't playing well," Smith said. "Nothing gets to her, which is why she is so good in pressure moments. She is so comfortable in her own skin."
Those pressured moments have been a culmination of college rivalry bouts, national title revenge, and Team USA call-ups.
And with her 22nd birthday on the horizon (August 27th), Stewart can now add two Olympic games to her repertoire.
“Things are definitely sinking in,” said Stewart at the Olympic Press Conference last Wednesday. “When you look around – whatever we’ve done today, looking around realizing that we are actually in Rio. It’s cool to know that we are actually getting started with the Olympics.”
And in true Stewart fashion, she wasted no time making history, this time for her nation.
Stewart hit a three-point shot late in the fourth quarter in the Olympic opener against Senegal to surpass the Olympic record the USA set against China four years ago in their 114 point victory, for points scored. The 121-56 deficit over Senegal also was the largest margin of victory the USA has had since 1996.
“If I’ve learned anything from the Olympic veterans,” wrote Stewart in her USA Today Diaries, “it is that this is a very short tournament, and you can take nothing for granted.
Sure, the U.S. has won the last five gold medals and 41 straight games, but we also know that we are everybody’s biggest game. There’s not a country in the world that doesn’t want to knock off Team USA. We have a huge target on our backs, and we’ll be ready.
Being ready is what makes Stewart such a threat on the court; she knows just when to turn it on.
But Stewart’s trajectory to the versatile player she is today was a work in progress. Her early height spurt, coupled with her ability to shoot, dribble, pass, made her an asset that many coaches early on struggled to utilize.
As a fixture on AAU teams growing up, her assignment was single-fold, explained her father, Brian, to ESPN.
“She was playing on a couple of travel teams, and it was usually ‘Breanna, stay around the basket and when the ball comes off, give it to the guards.”
However, after a little father encouragement, Stewart picked the moment when she was ready to be a different type of player.
On a transition play, as Stewart’s teammates swarmed passed her, ready for the offensive pass, Stewart did something she’d never done before, she was selfish.
She stepped back and let the ball roll of her fingertips; she took the shot.
Like most “Stewie” moments, to her coaches, her dad, and even to herself there came an “ah-ha” moment. But what that moment more importantly represented was a thunderous statement that Stewart would no longer be a stagnant tower stuck under the rim.
No, she would be much more.
Stewart’s evolution is undoubtedly her own, dismantling the preconceived notion that in order to be the best you also have to be the meanest, and even to Coach Auriemma’s dismay acknowledged the beauty in what makes Stewart her.
"If Stewie was a little bit like Maya [Moore] and Diana [Taurasi], she might have to play in the NBA, instead of the WNBA,” quoted Coach Auriemma in an article by Fox Sports. “She'd be at that level. But everybody's different. She does it in a different way. She does it kind of less demonstratively.”
But it is her jubilant nature that has made her lifelong friends off the court, while remaining an incredibly unassuming threat on the court -- a silent killer.
And if her permanent smile is not persuasion enough that she’s simply enjoying the moment, it’s evident in the way she played in her first two Olympic games. Stewart has missed only one shot thus far, going 7-8 overall and 1-1 on three-point shots off the bench.
Amongst her childhood idols, and UCONN greats in Bird, Taurasi, Moore, Tina Charles on this year’s national team, Stewart’s game plan is the same as it’s always been: to be ready.
“For me, I think the most important thing is to do whatever I can to make an impact. I’m not sure particularly what that means, but to just make sure that I’m ready to go and have high energy and high intensity all of the time.”
And somewhere in America, there is a 5’10” teenage girl who has picked up a basketball, and her idol isn’t so much the Maya Moore’s or the Diana Taurasi’s.
No, her idol is Breanna Stewart. And if that is the case, it’s safe to say the future of women’s basketball is in pretty good hands.