The Seattle Storm start a weeklong road trip Friday.
For rookie Breanna Stewart, the journey is a homecoming.
The four-time national champion and three-time Player of the Year at UConn will play her first professional game in Connecticut Friday when the Seattle Storm take on her college teammate Morgan Tuck and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena.
On Sunday, the Storm face the Indiana Fever at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Stewart played her final game with the Huskies on April 5 when she led them to an NCAA title game win over Syracuse. Then on Tuesday, Seattle visits another of Stewart's college classmates, Moriah Jefferson, and the San Antonio Stars. The trip wraps up June 16 in Dallas.
But the North Syracuse, New York, native has always been one to take things a day at a time. So her focus is on the struggling Sun.
"It's gonna be a really fun night," Stewart said. "I'm looking forward to coming back. My friends, my family are coming. UConn, the team is coming. The coaches should be there, I believe. I know that the fans are excited to see us, too. It will just be an exciting night. First time coming back to Connecticut, this was my home away from home basically."
Stewart, the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft in April, figures to get a warm reception in pregame introductions. But Sun fans usually aren't UConn fans following the opening tip.
It should be the largest crowd of the season at Mohegan Sun Arena. Connecticut has averaged just 5,169 for its first four home games.
"The one thing with the Connecticut fan base is they love watching sports and they're very loyal," Stewart said. "They're loyal to UConn players, and also to the Connecticut Sun. It will just show what kind of fans we have, what kind of fans are in our state. Hopefully they'll be cheering for the Storm, as well, just because we have some UConn alums on our team now too."
Seattle's starting point guard is Sue Bird, the first pick of the 2002 WNBA Draft out of UConn. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the third overall pick by the Storm in the 2015 draft, comes off the bench.
Through eight games, Stewart ranks ninth in the league in scoring (16.4), third in rebounds (9.9), tied for 13th in assists (3.0), and tied for fourth in blocked shots (2.0).
The Storm (3-5) are tied for third place in the Western Conference with the Dallas Wings. But the five losses do equal the total amount of losses Stewart endured at UConn (151-5 with 122 wins in the last 123 games).
"Obviously this is a whole different level, playing against the best players in the world every single night," Stewart said. "And you can't always win. I would love it if I didn't lose any more games this season, but I know that's a hefty goal."
It could be worse. Jefferson and the Stars are 1-5. The Sun's current losing streak of six is more than Tuck lost at UConn. Connecticut's 1-7 start is the worst in franchise history.
Bird, who will also be Stewart's teammate with the United States Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro this summer, knows what the 21-year-old is going through. But by her third year, she and fellow star Lauren Jackson led Seattle to the first of its two WNBA championships.
"I look up to her," Stewart said. "Sue's one of the best players in the league, the best point guard in this league. What she's been able to do throughout her career is what I want to do. The impact she's made, that kind of thing. She's helped me adapt to this league and what's going on as fast as possible. Coming from UConn definitely helps because I knew her before I got drafted. She came back to UConn a lot, we played on the national team a few times. So having that relationship prior to the Seattle Storm helps."
Another player Stewart knew well before heading west was Jewell Loyd, the first overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft out of Notre Dame. They played against each other in the 2013 Final Four semifinals and the 2014 and 2015 national championship games.
"It's been a lot of fun," Stewart said. "We both have versatile styles where we can do a lot of things on the court.
"I think the one thing, and I'm not sure you can make the transition any faster, is just creating that chemistry with the new team, new teammates," Stewart added. "I played at UConn for four years, and got a pretty good understanding of what people like and don't like. When you play on a new team you kind of have to start all over with that. We didn't have a lot of time here for practice or training camp because the season started earlier due to the Olympic break. So I think we've been rolling with the punches and getting better every day."
The Storm are coming off an 86-78 loss to the New York Liberty in Seattle Sunday.
With the Storm trying to mount a late rally, Stewart used a head fake to drive around fellow UConn alum Tina Charles. But Stewart's former teammate, Kiah Stokes, came over to send her layup bid out of bounds and preserve the Liberty's lead.
"I was waiting for this to come up," Stewart said with a laugh. "I told her she didn't need to block me like that. But in all seriousness, it was a nice play on her part. Usually I'm on the same team as Kiah, so she's doing that to other people. You can't be too upset. It was a great basketball play. To be able to see what she's done, and the success that she's had in the WNBA and even overseas, you can't not be happy for her."
On Friday, she'll see Tuck, who is averaging 5.8 points and 3.0 rebounds.
"I think it's gonna be fun to be able to square off against someone you're really, really close friends with and you've done a lot together in basketball," Stewart said. "You know what kind of player she is. You know what she's trying to do with her team. We'll be competitive when the game starts, but then after the game's over, we're back to being friends."
The Storm defeated the Sun 93-81 on May 28. The teams will play for a third and final time this season in Seattle on June 24.
TEAM USA COMING TO BRIDGEPORT, MSG
The United States Olympic team will host the national teams of Australia, Canada, and France in a four-team tournament from July 27-31 with games in Newark (Delaware), Bridgeport (Connecticut), and New York's Madison Square Garden.
"This tournament with Australia, Canada and France, three of the top teams in the world, is an incredible opportunity for our team to prepare for Rio," USA and UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. "I think each of these games will be competitive and be a really, really good preview of what you'll see in August at the Olympics. Two years ago we were able to play games at Delaware and Bridgeport, and the fan support at both of those games was tremendous. Then when you add Madison Square Garden into the mix, what better way to give our team a final send-off before Rio? I'm excited about getting our team together. We haven't had a chance to practice yet with just these 12 players, but they've all played together and I think they will show the fans something special in each of these three games."
The USA Basketball Showcase tips off at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center on July 27 with Australia-Canada, followed by USA-France. Team USA and Chicago Sky standout Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA Most Valuable Player, starred at Delaware and led the Blue Hens to the 2013 NCAA tournament Sweet 16.
The squads move on to Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on July 29. The doubleheader begins at 4:30 p.m. with a game between Australia and France, followed by Team USA against Canada at 7 p.m. The Americans will feature five UConn graduates -- Bird, Stewart, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, and Diana Taurasi. Team Canada will be led by Huskies' junior guard and two-time national champion Kia Nurse, the star of the Canadians' run to gold at the 2015 Pan American Games and FIBA Americas tourney that qualified them for the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The tourney will wrap up July 31 at Madison Square Garden as Canada and France tip off at 1:30 p.m. followed by Team USA and Australia.
From there, Team USA will travel to Houston for United States Olympic Team processing and a final practice on Aug. 2, prior to traveling to Rio de Janeiro. The U.S. will open pool play against Senegal on Aug. 7.
UCONN HIRES GOETZ
Beth Goetz, who was the interim athletic director at the University of Minnesota during the 2015-16 school year, has been named the UConn athletic department's Chief Operating Officer and senior woman administrator, the school announced.
She comes to UConn after three years at Minnesota. Goetz will oversee all internal departments in the UConn division of athletics, serve as a key member on the division's leadership team and will serve as sport administrator for football.
"The opportunity to add Beth to our team at UConn is like winning the administrative national championship or signing the number one prospect in the recruiting class," UConn athletic director David Benedict said in a statement. "Beth is a consummate professional and brings a diverse skill set to Storrs and I know she will have a profound impact on our student-athletes, coaches and staff."
Said UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma: "The hiring of Beth is great news for UConn and presents a great opportunity for college women's basketball. Our sport is at a crossroads in many ways and UConn needs to be a leader in the continued development and promotion of the game. Beth's national experience combined with the reputation of our program will give her the opportunity to make a positive impact on the future of the game."
At Minnesota, Goetz oversaw student-athlete development, athletic medicine and strength and conditioning and was the department liaison to academic services and compliance. She was also the sport administrator for women's basketball, baseball, rowing and volleyball. Goetz also served on the Big Ten's Administrators Council and was a member of the conference's Sports Management Committee.
She worked at Butler as an associate athletic director and SWA from 2008-13. Prior to Butler, she spent 12 years at Missouri-St. Louis and was an assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator for her final eight years and was the women's soccer head coach for 11 years.
Goetz was an All-American soccer player at Brevard College in North Carolina and then played two years at Clemson. She received her Associate of Arts degree from Brevard in 1994, a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Clemson in 1996, and a masters degree from UMSL in 2000.