As you scroll through the list of top scorers at the 2016 Olympics, you’ll soon come across one of the most recognizable names in women’s basketball: Breanna Stewart.
When the U.S. Women’s Basketball roster was announced, the 21-year-old Stewart had not even played a WNBA game, and many, despite Stewart’s collegiate dominance, were surprised to see her name on the list.
But through the first two-thirds of the WNBA season, Stewie made it clear that she was deserving of the honor. Her 19.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game rank fifth, second, and third in the league, respectively. Just 24 games into her WNBA career, she’s established herself as one of the league’s best players, let alone rookies. The recipient of all three Rookie of the Month awards thus far, there’s absolutely no doubt she will claim Rookie of the Year honors, as she puts together one of the best debut seasons in league history.
After the first three games in Rio for the Americans, it’s clear she belongs there, as well. She’s 16th in scoring for the tournament, putting up 13.7 points per game, despite only playing 13.1 minutes a night off the bench. Yes, that’s right, her scoring average is higher than her minutes played average. Of the 123 players on the scoring list in these Olympic games, only one other player is accomplishing that feat: Australia’s Liz Cambage, the tournament’s leading scorer. A small sample size to be sure, but absurd nonetheless.
Furthermore, she’s doing it with incredible efficiency. She hasn’t taken enough shots for her field goal percentage to qualify among the leaders in Rio, but she’s shooting 75 percent from the field, and 83 percent from the line. In all, between field goals and free throws, she’s missed just 7 shots in three games.
After the first game against Senegal, Stewart said, “Obviously, to be here and be the youngest one here, I’m just trying to be a sponge in learning from the vets, but also when it’s my turn go out and play.”
Two games later, it’s clear she meant each and every one of those words, as she’s quickly taken to Olympic play, showing once again that her abilities are not limited to American soil. Stewart’s international resume includes six championships with USA Basketball beginning with the U-16 team in 2009.
Rather than just being along for the ride, Stewart has continued to let her talents shine. On a team with four of the last five WNBA MVPs, and the last eight scoring champions, it’s Stewart who’s second in scoring on the squad (behind only Diana Taurasi) despite being 10th in minutes played.
It’s a testament to both how talented Stewart is, and how great a teammates she is as well. Despite being just as skilled as anyone else on the squad, she’s content with playing her role.
As coach Geno Auriemma, told USA Today, “I don’t feel as bad not playing Stewie because I know she’s not going to come up to me and start moaning and groaning about why she’s not playing.”
That team-first mentality is in large part why Stewart, despite being just 21 years old, is well on the way to adding a Gold Medal to her already overflowing collection of awards.