UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- During her incredible basketball career at the University of Connecticut, Breanna Stewart spoke often about her goal of winning four national championships. At least that's what the three-time national Player of the Year was asked about the most.
Little did anyone know she had so much more to add. Fifteen months after stepping off the court for the final time as a Husky at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and winning that historic fourth consecutive NCAA title, she's becoming known as much for her activism as for her skills on the floor.
"I wasn't asked about it at UConn. I wasn't asked about certain things that were happening in the world," Stewart said Thursday. "So it's you (media) guys' fault. I think I would have said the same things. CD (UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey) and I would have talked about it prior if it was something I wanted to do and was constantly asked about it.
"You don't think about it so much at UConn. There's so much going on. CD has you doing so many things. My first season at Seattle, there were things that needed to be talked about. When I was at the ESPYs last year, it seemed like there was a lot happening in our world and instead of having the generic 'Thank you very, thank you to my family, blah, blah, blah,' I wanted to make it about something really important, something that needed to be said and heard."
During her speech accepting the Best Female Athlete at the 2016 ESPYs, the 22-year-old North Syracuse, New York native asked for equal opportunity for female athletes. She has spoken about Black Lives Matter and also LGBTQ inclusion. Last January while doing her rehabilitation for a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee on the west coast, she went to Los Angeles International Airport to join a protest against President Trump's travel ban barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States.
Before our eyes, Stewart has grown up.
"It's just been really maturing and continuing to become a professional, be a professional, and hold myself as a professional," Stewart said. "There's a lot that goes on on the court. But off the court as WNBA players it's using my platform to speak and vocalize my thoughts, that type of activism, or doing things as a pro would."
Stewart made her second appearance as a professional at Mohegan Sun Arena Thursday night and fell to 0-2. Last year she had a shot at the buzzer to win the but misfired. Game 2 wasn't quite as close as the Connecticut Sun got back to the .500 mark with a 96-89 victory over Stewart and the Seattle Storm.
What she did at UConn is far from forgotten. She and fellow UConn graduate Sue Bird received the loudest ovation of the 10 starters from the announced crowd of 8,668 at the casino.
"It's special to be here," Stewart said. "When we stay at Mohegan Sun and I'm walking to get some food and everyone is stopping me and going, 'I loved your career at UConn. I still follow you,' that feels good. And to see all of the people here tonight in UConn gear or Seattle gear, I'm just happy to be back and have the opportunity for my family to come here for this."
Stewart finished with her fourth double-double in 13 games this season with 22 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.
For the season, the 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year is averaging 17.5 points (ninth in the league), 8.6 rebounds (fifth in the league), and 1.6 blocked shots (sixth in the league).
"I feel a lot more comfortable and just aware of what's going to happen," Stewart said. "It seemed like last year everything that happened, you'd just run with it. 'Oh, we're going to go on a 10-day road trip? We're going to have a back to back?' The teams we play and the players we play against, you're much more aware. Last year, I didn't have time to think about anything."
The 2016 calendar year was special for her, starting with the national championship at UConn, being the first pick in the WNBA Draft, winning a gold medal with the United States national team coached by Geno Auriemma at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and helping the Storm qualify for the WNBA playoffs.
She signed to play overseas in Shanghai, China, but injured her right knee early in January and came back to the United States. It was her first break from basketball since she could remember.
"The break was good for me," Stewart said. "If I didn't take it myself because of my injury, I wasn't going to have a break like that.
"Obviously when you come back from a knee injury it's going to take you a couple of games or a little while to get back acclimated to a style of play. Even going from China back to the WNBA ... In China, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot is put on you. It's hard to compare to two."
Stewart said she will return to Shanghai to play during the upcoming WNBA offseason.
"I had to do a lot with my team whether it was bringing the ball up, coming off screens, shooting a 3 off the dribble, creating something," Stewart said. "You have full range to do whatever you want."
Seattle (6-8), which was coming off a 30-point loss at Washington Tuesday, wraps up a three-game road trip Saturday against the Dallas Wings.
It will be Stewart's first time in the Dallas area since watching from the stands at the American Airlines Center when UConn's reign as national champion ended last March 31 with an overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four semifinals. So she, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson remain the only players in NCAA history with four national championship rings.
Stewart chuckles when she hears of players entering college saying they want to win four in a row.
"I do think back to how hard it was," Stewart said. "When I said it as a freshman, I said it and I really wanted it to happen. But it was hard. The first one, yeah, the second one, yeah, the third one was the hardest one, and then you want finish it off with your fourth. But I think a lot of people are trying to speak it into existence now. Everybody wants to win four but it's more than just talking about it. You have to go out and do it."
She's already learned that counts in the real world as well.