Offer From Hillsman An Eye-Opener For Stewart

Breanna Stewart, a Syracuse resident, was in the infancy of her career when Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman laid eyes on her.

Stewart was not yet in high school, not yet regarded as the top player in the country at her age. But Hillsman knew she had the necessary tools to be special. That’s why he offered Stewart a scholarship as an eighth grader in June of 2008.

“She was very, very young,’’ Hillsman said. “She came to our camp. She was just a very, very tough kid then, very athletic. In like the second game she got hit in the nose and her nose was bloody. She stuffed her nose and went back and played. Normally, an eighth grade girl definitely goes, `I’m done for the day.’ But she came really back and competed at a high level.

“So I knew from that point with her toughness that she had a chance to be really good. And I don’t think she shorted herself at all because she’s had a great high school career, a great career with USA Basketball. I think she’ll be a great player in the country.’’

The scholarship offer Hillsman proved to be a memorable moment for Stewart.

“That was definitely a turning point,’’ Stewart said. “I wasn’t expecting to get a scholarship offer from them at that point. But it was something that was like, `Wow, that’s awesome. I got a D-I scholarship.’ And then it just kind of skyrocketed from there.’’

Stewart, who returned from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury Saturday to score 20 points in 22 minutes against Syracuse, said that she always had the Orange in the back of her mind throughout the recruiting process because of their proximity to her home. However, it was the ability to win a national championship and her desire to leave her hometown to play at the college level that led her to choose UConn.

“I’ve grown up in Syracuse all my life and I could’ve stayed there, but I think it was getting a little away from home,’’ Stewart said. “Plus, I want to try to reach my potential here at Connecticut. Obviously, some people wanted me to go to Syracuse, but I think they understood my reasons why I came to Connecticut and they supported me for the most part.’’

A recruiting source said that UConn coach Geno Auriemma Tuesday will head to see Class of 2014 target A’ja Wilson, a 6-foot-4 wing from Hopkins, S.C. who is regarded as the top player in the class.

UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph went to see fellow junior Gabby Williams, an athletic 5-11 guard from Sparks, NV, last week.