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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Stewart Prepared For Return To Form In Unusual Season

Breanna Stewart improvised in all the ways she could. She ran the stairs in her apartment building. She ran in the park with her dog in the soggy Seattle springtime – even though she admits she has never been a fan of outdoor running. She did virtual workouts with her trainer.

Whatever it took to be ready for this moment.

With most WNBA players already reporting to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, heading into what is already being nicknamed the “Wubble”, to prepare for a 22-game WNBA season, Stewie’s had to make peace with the circumstances of a WNBA comeback that’s been well over a year in the making.

Stewart’s Achilles tendon injury on April 14, 2019 in the EuroLeague title game stripped her of the 2019 WNBA season, the opportunity to help Seattle defend their WNBA title and for her defend her 2018 MVP Award.

She worked through a laborious process of healing and rehabilitation to get herself back on the floor nine months later on January 27, when the USA National Team faced her alma mater, the Connecticut Huskies in an exhibition game.

Stewart would finish with three points in 17 minutes.

She followed up by traveling with Team USA to Serbia for the Olympic qualifying tournament, playing in two of the three U.S. wins and scoring a total of 20 points.

And then she was off to Russia, where she played overseas until COVID-19 changed the world and the basketball schedule. The Olympics are postponed. The WNBA season has been disrupted and shortened.

And Stewart has no choice but to work to stay ready for what comes next.

“I was in great shape in Russia,” Stewart said. “My body has been feeling great.”

Her body isn’t her only consideration. Stewart said she has worked to get her mind right as well for a season unlike any other before it.

“To be honest, I think it’s going to be very weird,” Stewart said. “That first game out there, playing without fans, being in the bubble. At least there will be an opposing team and a chance to play. But it’s surreal.”

Stewart has viewed these last few months at home, from a basketball perspective, as a continuation of her rehab. Away from basketball, Stewart has become a leading voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, pledging her allyship, attending protests, and now becoming a part of the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council, which was announced as the players and coaches began to arrive at IMG Academy on July 6.

Stewart said that heading into the bubble for the season reminds her a little bit of going overseas, packing for a long trip and knowing you won’t see family and friends for a long time.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a bad thing,” Stewart said. “We will wash our hands, we will have our masks on in the complex, the majority of the players have been self-quarantining for a while now.”

The 25-year-old Stewart knows as well as anyone, considering her experience over this past 17 months, that preparing on your own is difficult and she feels for the players who didn’t always have access to the facilities and the resources that they needed. It will be good for everyone to finally get together.

“I think it’s going to take a little while, but I know people are really excited to play together,” Stewart said. “We just have to know that we won’t be able to go 1,000 miles an hour out of the gate. Everybody needs to get some games under the belt.”

While changes will be felt on many of the league’s rosters, the Storm, as it stands now, will come back looking largely like it did in 2018, led by Stewart and veteran point guard Sue Bird. Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, Jordin Canada, Alysha Clark, Crystal Langhorne, Mercedes Russell and Sami Whitcomb are expected back. Morgan Tuck and Epiphanny Prince have been added as well as Ezi Magbegor, the 6-foot-4 Australian post. In fact, the biggest change may be on the bench where coach Dan Hughes will be missing, sitting out the 2020 season following a medical assessment. Gary Kloppenburg will serve as head coach for the season.

As one of the more experienced, stable teams coming to Orlando, the Storm are viewed as title contenders.

Stewart isn’t going to focus on that quite yet.

“It’s just going to be nice to get out there and play and see how all the pieces fit together,” Stewart said.

This, after all, is why she ran in the rain with the dog.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs