October 13, 2015

It's been a busy few months for Breanna Stewart, and her UConn season hasn't even started yet.

The Huskies senior spent time playing with USA Basketball at both the Pan Am Games this summer and on a European tour this past week.

The 21-year-old has played for the U.S. at nearly every level, already winning six gold medals in her young career - she settled for silver at the Pan Am Games in Toronto after losing to host Canada in the gold-medal game. Still, she gained experience and confidence as Canada, Brazil and a few other teams in that tournament brought their national teams to play against the U.S. college stars.

Stewart had her first real national team experience last fall when she was part of the world championship team that won the title in Turkey. Yet it was the first time that she had struggled in international play. She wasn't happy with the way she played in that tournament as she was adjusting to playing against pros.

Now with a couple more USA Basketball camps under her belt and the Pan Am Games experience, Stewart feels more confident that she belongs at that level.

''I think the biggest thing not from just the last 10 days, but going back to the world championship last fall is my comfort level,'' she said in a phone interview on the way back from the Czech Republic. ''I'm way more comfortable on the court. The physicality that bothered me last year at the worlds, got better.''

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who also coaches Stewart on the national team, was impressed with her growth.

''When she was here before she struggled a little bit with the physicalness of it. She wasn't prepared for that at the world championship,'' he said. ''Here she is, a year later, and she's a different player. You can see it out on the floor. The way she handled herself, she's only going to get better and better. Stewie's got a lot of gifts and just needs experience playing at this level.''

Stewart averaged just 1.8 points playing 6 minutes a game at the worlds. During the four-game European trip, the three-time most outstanding player of the Final Four averaged 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds as the Americans went 4-0.

''She's a great kid,'' said Candace Parker, who had her first chance to play with Stewart on the tour. ''She's going to be amazing. She's a better shooter already than I am.''

Now back in Connecticut, Stewart is focused on her upcoming season and trying to win a fourth straight national championship. Practice officially begins Saturday after the Huskies annual first night event the evening before. She knows she'll be with the pros again soon enough in the WNBA next spring and hopefully on the 2016 Olympic team.

Before she left for Europe, Stewart watched the WNBA draft lottery with her UConn teammates. She is projected as the No. 1 pick going to Seattle, which won the lottery. Stewart was glad that the lottery was done before her UConn season began.

''I'm happy that part of it is over,'' Stewart said. ''It was exciting to watch the lottery and see that kind of stuff and now it's not people asking, `Where are you going to go? What's going to happen?' You never know what's going to happen. It's out of my hands. I watched the lottery and then was back with my team for 6 a.m. workout the next morning.''

Auriemma also is happy that it's out of the way.

''The draft is going to happen in April whether Stewie has a great senior year or poor senior year. She's not going to spend the entire senior year talking about the WNBA and answering questions about the WNBA,'' Auriemma said. ''The story right now is the University of Connecticut and whether Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson can win a national championship and do something no one has ever done before.''

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