Breanna Stewart follows dad's lead

Bill Shettle/Cal Sport Media/AP Photo

Breanna Stewart was blessed with long limbs, but the UConn women's basketball star didn't always know how to use them.

Breanna Stewart already had some important tools when she started building her basketball career as a 7-year-old in Syracuse, N.Y. She just didn't quite know how to use them.

"I was the tallest kid in my class, but I wasn't very coordinated in the beginning and definitely wasn't born with a 3-point shot or the ability to dribble," said the Connecticut sophomore and the 2013 Final Four Most Outstanding Player. "I have long limbs and big feet, and I tripped over them a lot initially."

Courtesy Steven Maikoski/USA Basketball

Breanna Stewart says making the USA Basketball U16 team in 2009 sealed the basketball deal for her.

The 6-foot-4 forward, who is hoping to lead the No. 1 Huskies (1-0) past rival Stanford tonight in Storrs after scoring 14 points in UConn's season-opening 89-34 win over Hartford on Saturday, remembers spending countless hours practicing with her dad at the local YMCA so she could contribute in the community rec games.

"It was something that brought us together, because we went to the Y all the time on weekends," Stewart said of her father, Brian Stewart. "Especially when I was younger -- he was the one playing pickup and I'd just run around the gym. As I got older, we'd go down and shoot and work on skills and then go out to breakfast afterwards.

"He fell in love with the sport as an adult, and for me to fall in love with it was something we could bond over."

Stewart's dad also instructed her in a ballhandling exercise that involves dribbling around the block, which made her famous in her neighborhood.

"I'd go around four times, and each time I'd do something different. It's something I still do today," said Stewart, who averaged 20.8 points and 6.2 rebounds during the Huskies' NCAA tournament run.

"The neighbors are all used to it now. In fact, I think they miss the sound of the basketball when I'm away at school."

Combined with her dad's creative drills and a lot of practice, Stewart's talent led to a string of opportunities that only deepened her passion for the game.

"After playing in that community league, I was asked to play on a local AAU traveling team and then a bigger AAU team and things just took off from there," she said. "As I began playing more and more and getting better, I fell in love with the game. I think the part I enjoyed most was competing against other people and winning."

As she made the jump to USA Basketball's U16 team, she realized basketball could take her much further than around the block or even across the state.

"I was 14 at the time, so it was a big deal for me," said Stewart, the proud owner of five USA Basketball gold medals. "To be able to go out and play against the top players in the country was awesome."

She has become a regular on the USA Basketball circuit since then, soaking up the game on courts across the country and around the world. The scary part for opponents -- domestic and international -- is that she hopes this is just the beginning.

"I just love the game," she said. "It's crazy to think about all the places basketball has taken me and I'm only 19."

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