There was little doubt who was the top high school player in the country this season. There was never any serious discussion, really. The choice was UConn commit Breanna Stewart, a versatile 6-foot-4 All-American forward from North Syracuse, N.Y.
The coaches and players who spoke about Stewart over the past few months ran out adjectives trying her describe her. She is long. She can handle the ball. She can score with either hand inside. She can step out and shoot 3-pointers. She can block shots. She can set up her teammates for scores and her footwork is smooth.
Stewart won all of the major individual awards this season, including being honored as the Naismith High School Player of the Year and the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Still, none of this has changed her approach to the game or her personality. Her focus remains to continue to work and to continue to improve.
“I’m just very humble,’’ Stewart said. “It’s very nice to hear and get the awards, but you still have a lot of work to go because you worked hard to get those awards. I have a lot more I can improve on and that’s what I’d like to do.’’
Stewart, who played significant roles for the U.S. U-19 and Pan American Games teams last the summer, threw out the first pitch Thursday at the Class AAA game between the Syracuse Chiefs and the Rochester Red Wings at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse. Her celebrity status is certain to further escalate once she takes her spot on the UConn roster next season.
Stewart finished her career at Cicero-North Syracuse High with a New York state Section III record 2,367 points. Overall, she averaged 19.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 5.1 blocks in her five-year career with the Northstars.
“Breanna is the most complete player in high school basketball,’’ Cicero-North Syracuse coach Eric Smith said. “She can post you up, take you off the dribble, knock down 3s, has great court vision and is a tremendous shot blocker. She is a tenacious competitor that refuses to lose. She plays as hard as she can no matter if it is in practice or a game. With all of this Breanna as a person is better than Breanna as a basketball player. She is an unbelievably humble person. She is a great friend and teammate.
“She has spent hours after games signing autographs and taking pictures with fans all the while with a smile on her face no matter how she has played or the team has done. Her teammates had to find out through the paper that she had won a lot of her awards because she never brags about them. I have coached Breanna for five years and have never seen her yell at a teammate or say anything negative about them. Breanna is the complete package, great player, student and person.’’
Stewart said she enjoyed the best season of her career as a senior, averaging 26.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.2 steals and 4.2 blocks. She led Cicero-North Syracuse to a 23-3 record and the state Class AA and Section 3 championships.
“I think I did have my best year this year,’’ Stewart said. “I was just emerging in all different aspects I think. I had an opportunity to play on the 19-and-under USA team and the Pan Am Games just getting myself a lot of experience playing with older players. And I’m just enjoying the ride.’’
Stewart had 42 points, 23 rebounds and six blocks against Nazareth in the New York State Federation Class AA semifinals March 24, setting a Class AA single-game scoring record. She followed with 22 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks in a victory over Murry Bergtraum in the final.
Stewart set Federation tournament two-game records with 64 points and 38 rebounds.
“It’s unfair to have her play against those high school kids,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s unfair. It really is. She’s playing on the Pan Am Games and she’s one of the top five players in the world at that age group. God bless her. I hope she keeps getting better and keeps getting better. There’s nobody like that. There never has been either. When you think about how the game has changed from Rebecca Lobo to this kid, there’s nobody like that. And she wants it bad. I don’t think there’s ever been anybody like that in high school that I’ve seen. A 6-4 kid that can do all that? And make 3s now and passes the ball the way she does?’’
Stewart is scheduled to arrive at UConn June 13. Fellow classmates Morgan Tuck, a 6-2 forward from Bolingbrook, Ill., and Moriah Jefferson, a 5-7 point guard from Glenn Heights, Texas, are due to arrive June 4.
Stewart is not coming to UConn to be a savior of any kind. That would be out of character. She is only looking to fit in and fill whatever role Auriemma needs her to fill.
“It’s all coming very quickly, but I’m really excited to get there and start getting better and getting ready for the college level,’’ Stewart said. “I would like to go to Connecticut next year and just get better and help the team get better in whatever way I can.’’