June 23, 2014

It's time to find out whether Breanna Stewart will live up to the hype for the Seattle Storm.

Her professional debut comes against a player who could have extra incentive in Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker.

Parker was snubbed from the United States Olympic team with the rookie Stewart making the squad, and that's one of the juicy subplots in the season opener for both teams Sunday at Staples Center.

There has long been anticipation in the WNBA for Stewart, a do-everything forward who became the first player in NCAA history to earn most outstanding player of the Final Four honors in four years as she led Connecticut to four titles. She has drawn comparisons to former Storm star and three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson, who announced her retirement this offseason.

Stewart, who averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds this past season, is eager to begin.

''Everybody is excited and I'm excited," she said. "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.''

There's already controversy surrounding Stewart because of her UConn ties. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma is also the U.S. Olympic coach and selected the unproven rookie for the squad.

Her addition in part meant that Parker was left off the squad, with many believing that the Sparks star having attended Tennessee was a factor. Parker is a two-time WNBA MVP who helped the U.S. capture gold in the last two Olympics.

''I was surprised, very surprised," Parker said. ''I was looking forward to this summer. I played well up until this point. Played well in both camps. I felt like my game is still in its prime.''

Parker, limited to 16 games a season ago due to injuries, is healthy now. She averaged 19.4 points and 10.1 boards in 2015.

She has a new coach in Brian Agler, who guided Seattle from 2008-14 and led the Storm to their second championship in 2010. He'll try to help the franchise bounce back from a second straight losing season in 2015, with the Sparks going 14-20 and falling to Minnesota in the conference semifinals.

Seattle finished 2015 with the league's second-worst mark at 10-24, including a 2-15 road record. The Storm are seeking to avoid missing the playoffs three straight years for the first time.

Stewart could become the second straight Seattle player to win rookie of the year honors after Jewell Loyd, who averaged 10.7 points a season ago. Los Angeles is looking for a big campaign from 2012 rookie of the year Nneka Ogwumike - one of six former All-Stars on the roster.

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