UNCASVILLE, Conn. - With a month to go in the WNBA regular season, Breanna Stewart may be the leading candidate to be the league's Most Valuable Player.
Her most valuable work over the past year may have been done off the court.
"I don't know if I'm playing my best basketball because hopefully I can play better," Stewart said after wrapping up practice with the Seattle Storm here Thursday. "I think I'm in a good place on the court. It's Year 3 so another year of being comfortable at the professional level and knowing what I want to do and what this team wants to do.
"I have nothing else to give, I've become very open with everything and now I just go out and play."
It was last October that Stewart - a three-time national Player of the Year and four-time Final Four Most Outstanding Player and national champion at the University of Connecticut - penned an essay for The Players' Tribune website where she admitted that she had been sexually abused for two years starting when she was 9.
The essay was titled "Me Too," a nod to a social media movement started following abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
"It was important to me because it was something that I wanted to do," Stewart said. "It wasn't something that I was shying away from but was trying to find the right time to do it. When the Me Too Movement really came about I was in China and I was talking to a few people. I was like, 'It's time for me to share my story and hopefully help a lot of people that were in my position and still are in my position.'
"When I first released the article I was extremely nervous because I was putting myself in a vulnerable position, a position I had not put myself in before. The amount of feedback I got and the positive reaction was unbelievable. I didn't know what to expect. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. It saved their life, something they could relate to."
Last month, she shared more about her assault and personal life growing up in an ESPN E:60 interview and also posed for ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue.
"This is my life and I'm trying to be the best I can be on the basketball court but also it's about how can my life experiences help other people who are going through similar experiences," Stewart said.
"I'm not sure how much my life has changed (the last year) but the fact I'm being much more open about things, sharing my story with everyone, letting everyone learn a little more about my life … I'm comfortable in my own skin through everything that has happened."
On Wednesday afternoon, Stewart had 30 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Chicago Sky. She missed the broadcast of the ESPYs live but did see a replay of some 140 women, who were abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Stewart will return to the court Friday when the Storm (17-6) meet the Connecticut Sun (12-11) at Mohegan Sun Arena. She leads the WNBA in scoring (22.9) on 54.3 percent shooting, is fifth in rebounds (8.2), and seventh in blocked shots (1.6). Seattle also has the league's best record.
"It's amazing," veteran Seattle point guard Sue Bird said. "There's this connection between with what she's opened up about and things that have happened to her and the maturity she's shown. It's one in the same, right? But if I was to talk about the on-court part, there's just something different about her. She came in a little more confident, a little more mature, and way more motivated.
"When you're in the early part of your career you're just playing. 'Yeah, I'm here, I'm playing. I'm pretty good and doing things well.' But then there comes a moment where you can see in a player that it switches and they're actually trying, she's actually trying to carry us to wins, trying to carry us to a championship. She wants to be MVP. She's grown up."
If Seattle goes on to win the championship, Stewart, who will be 24 in late August, will become the 11th player to capture NCAA and WNBA titles along with Olympic and FIBA world championship gold medals.
Former UConn players on that short list are Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash, and Kara Wolters.
"I want to be the best," Stewart said. "Now it's going out every night and proving it and showing what I can do.
"I'm doing what my team needs. We're in a position we haven't been the past couple of years. We have 17 wins already and it's nice to be back on the winning track. Just coming out every night, Coach (Dan Hughes) says one game at a time and I need to step up. I need to be a threat on offense and then get rebounds and whatever else I can."
The Storm will have 10 regular season games remaining after facing the Sun. If they can hold on to the best record (Phoenix, with Taurasi, is their closest pursuer), they will receive a bye into the WNBA playoff semifinals and have home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
And it's not like Stewart doesn't know how to finish and win championships.
"The talent was always there," Bird said. "There's no other player in the league like her."