The thought of one day representing the United States at the Olympics has been a goal for UConn All-American Breanna Stewart for years. She has been associated with USA Basketball since she was 15, competing at the U.S. Women’s National Team mini-camp last October.
Stewart, the reigning collegiate National Player of the Year, will have another opportunity to prove herself to the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Player Selection Committee when she attends training camp over the next few weeks. At stake is one of 12 spots on the World Championship Team.
“I’m really excited,’’ Stewart said. “It’s an amazing opportunity just like it was last fall in Las Vegas. But, obviously, the World Championships are at the end of this month and that’s something that I want to be part of. I’m going to the training camp to do whatever I can to make the team. It’s the National Team. This is just a stepping stone towards the Olympics.’’
Stewart, a 6-foot-4 forward, is again the only college player on a 27-player roster. Among the host of professionals are 10 members of the 2012 Olympic Team that won gold in London, including former UConn stars Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
Fellow former UConn All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley will also be competing at training camp, which begins Monday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Taurasi will not attend after leading the Phoenix Mercury to the WNBA Finals.
Stewart said she welcomes the pressure of having to compete against the professionals to earn a spot on the World Championship Team.
“I think it adds a lot to your game,’’ Stewart said. “I think that you just know that there’s a different type of pressure you’re trying to perform under. People want to see how good I actually am or something like that or how she plays on TV, how she actually plays and that type of thing. Just the pressure that you want to perform well in front of whether it’s the pros, the committee, the coaches … You want to perform well under any of them.’’
Team USA will work out in Annapolis through Sept. 10. They will host the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Showcase, a Red vs. White intrasquad game, at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center Sept. 11 (7 p.m.; ESPN2) and will face Canada and UConn freshman Kia Nurse at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Sept 15 (7 p.m.; ESPN2).
The U.S. will then play four exhibition games in Europe against 2012 Olympic silver medalist France, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Australia, 2010 FIBA World Championship silver medalist Czech Republic and 2013 FIBA Asia bronze medalist China prior to the start of the World Championship. It will also compete in the France International Tournament in Paris Sept. 19-21, facing Australia Sept. 19, China Sept. 20 and France on Sept. 21 and will travel to Prague, Czech Republic for an exhibition against the Czech Republic Sept. 23.
The 12-member World Championship Team will be finalized prior to the start of the FIBA World Championship, which will be held Sept. 27-Oct. 5 in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey.
“Judging by how she performed at the Las Vegas training camp a year ago I would say that Stewie has got as good a chance of making the team as anybody else not named `previous Olympic gold medalist,’’’ Team USA/UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s still going to come down to she’s going to have to go there and earn a spot and a lot of things are going to go into that. But in terms of is she talented enough and is she mentally able to handle all that … Absolutely.’’
Stewart is fresh off generating one of the best seasons in UConn history. She averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.8 blocks and joined Cheryl Miller as the only players named Final Four Most Outstanding Player in each of their first two seasons as the Huskies finished 40-0.
Stewart also set team sophomore records with 777 points and 110 blocks and scored in double figures over the final 31 games (19.9).
In the coming weeks, she hopes to join Kara Wolters (1994) and Moore (2010) as the only UConn players to play for the U.S. World Championship Team as college players.
“I don’t know today, but obviously when you look at the kind of season she had as a sophomore coming on the heels of the camp in October I think she got a tremendous amount of confidence from that camp when you can perform as well as she did against all those professional basketball players,’’ Auriemma said. “I think it gave her a real kind of mental and physical charge going into last season and she used it. So she spent the summer trying to get a little bit bigger, a little stronger, which is not necessarily going to happen with Stewie’s body type. But we talked this morning and she feels really, really comfortable and ready and excited.’’