loading...Please wait while content is loading.
Olympics and potential greatness on the cards for Stewart

NEWCASTLE (Paul Nilsen's Women's Basketball Worldwide) - Sat in the car heading back to the hotel in Klaipeda at the recent FIBA U19 World Championship for Women, there was universal agreement from all four passengers that they had seen a very special player.

Sure, this isn't exactly a newsflash when it comes to Breanna Stewart because of her terrific track record with USA Basketball and recent NCAA title win during her freshman year at UConn. But you do have to see her up close in a bunch of games to truly appreciate she's a basketball machine and so perfectly built to play the game.

With any player, I always look for efficiency not only in stats, but economy of movement, control, poise, stature and much more. When Stewart hits the hardwood, it's poetry in motion.

Her long stride means she eats up the ground quickly and her beautifully balanced inside-outside game, means her options to destroy opponents are plentiful and don't need to be forced.

The way she took over the game in the Semi-Final against Australia was breath-taking and rarely at any level, have I seen a player dominate in that way.

She didn't take over the game by pushing things, she did it with grace and ruthless efficiency, during a devastating six-minute spell which was one of the best I have seen in the women's game. She drifted to the wing and the corner to effortlessly stroke a couple of triples, she finished on the fast-break and best of all, she received the ball with her back to the basket and executed a memorable and sweet spin to the hoop.

She just let the game come to her and that is what captures my imagination. It's so natural and healthy from a team perspective. It's also quite magnificent to watch. Yes, she has the luxury of playing on great teams which means she can afford to pick her moments. But, even taking this into account, she does most things with class and purpose.

Her skill-set is extensive, but the way she applies it is the key. Despite her elevated status, she's a fantastic team player and she works hard.

I appreciate this is gushing praise, but that is how impressed I was. And I was not alone. There was a universal discussion over each evening meal, at breakfast or at the arena around the issue of just how good Stewart is and how good can she be?

I spoke to the legendary Dawn Staley and she said that the starting point was that Stewart would be an Olympian for sure, perhaps as early as Rio 2016.

Not that Stewart doesn't have areas to improve. She does. I am sure Geno Auriemma would throw 10 things back to me that she needs to do and rightly so. I assume Stewart herself would also agree.

Nevertheless, I have never been so excited about the prospects for a junior player and Stewart is a truly outstanding example of the benefits of playing through the USA Basketball programme.

Additionally, from seeing her interact at practice, on the bench, around the locker rooms and the tournament itself, it's abundantly clear that she's a big personality who loves to have fun - even if this may occasionally contribute towards high-jinx that could land her in hot water.

Just as I stated in a column last year, how she now handles the opportunity to become a truly great player from a mental perspective, is likely to be the deal-breaker.

Keeping her feet on the ground, dealing with hype, expectation, injuries, setbacks and seeing praise and criticism for what it is, will be fundamental for her all-important mental state.

"Could we potentially be watching one of the best players to have ever stepped into the women’s game?" was the specific question posed in the car whilst in Lithuania.

It was met with a general musing in the positive by those answering and an accompanying "Hmmm, maybe."

So, over to you Breanna.

Paul Nilsen


FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Comments | Print