Stewart on outside looking in for 2016 Olympic team

Breanna Stewart, 43, sets a screen during Team USA practice at the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center in front of head coach Geno Auriemma. (Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog)

A busy few days have finally come to an end for Breanna Stewart.

After scoring 16 points and adding 11 rebounds in the UConn women’s basketball team’s 84-41 blowout win on the road at East Carolina Saturday, Stewart returned home late that night and was back at it early Sunday morning, participating in the first day of a three-day training camp in Storrs for the USA basketball women’s national team.

For three days, Stewart went up against some of the best players in the world as she looked to secure one of 12 spots on the USA basketball Olympic team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Despite being the only college player among the 20 players eligible for the national team, Stewart held her own against players with decades of professional and international experience.

“I thought she did great. I thought she was just way more assertive and aggressive and beyond everything else comfortable,” three-time gold medalist and former Husky Sue Bird said of Stewart. “I’ve actually seen Stewie play a ton, so nothing she did necessarily surprised me. I already knew how good she was.”

Making this team won’t be easy, even for the best player in women’s college basketball. Ten players from the 2012 Olympic team were at the training camp, as former Huskies Swin Cash and Asjha Jones weren’t selected. Cash and Jones’ absence creates two definite openings, but a few more spots may be available due to other situations.

Two obvious candidates for the two open spots are Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne, both of which were not on the 2012 team but have evolved into two of the more dominant players in women’s basketball in the last four years. Delle Donne is the reigning WNBA most valuable player after averaging 23.4 points per game last season, and the 6-foot-8-inch Griner is an intimidating physical presence after averaging 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and four blocks per game last season.

“She knows how important this is…I think she feels very responsible to be here and be the best center in the world for our team,” Diana Taurasi said of Griner, her teammate on the Phoeneix Mercury. “Next man up. We’ve had a lot of different people play/not play. We don’t expect anything else but the best.”

While Stewart knows she is far from a lock to head to Rio this summer, the senior forward was proud of her performance at camp and how she showcased her abilities.

“I just wanted to make sure that I put everything I had out there to show on the court and I think I did that in the past three days,” Stewart said. “Whatever happens from here happens, I’m happy to be a part of this, just taking it one day at a time. I definitely feel like I belong.”

The USA basketball women’s national team player selection committee, led by USA women’s national team director Carol Callan, will select the Olympic team’s 12-person roster in the next few months. The team will then head to Rio this summer with their eyes set on their sixth-straight gold medal and keep their 41-game Olympic win streak alive. Until then, Stewart will have her mind set on another pair of impressive streaks: the Huskies’ 63-game win streak and the quest for program’s fourth-straight national championship.

“I don’t think having Stewie on the team is going to guarantee us a gold medal. I’m not ready to say that,” UConn and USA basketball women’s national team head coach Geno Auriemma said. “But Stewie’s put herself ahead of a lot of players in the WNBA that could also be on this team and if she does make the team, it’s because she deserves it. She earned it.


Dan Madigan is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @DMad1433.