- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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Breanna Stewart had a moment of clarity in her recruitment, followed by another. The 6-foot-3 forward from North Syracuse, N.Y., was being overwhelmed by the options afforded the top-ranked junior in the country.
The first moment happened in October when Stewart announced that she had narrowed her list of schools to consider to 10. With the scope narrowed, she was able to zero in and cut the list even more during her junior season at Cicero-North Syracuse High School (North Syracuse, N.Y.).
When Stewart cut her list to her final three -- Connecticut, Duke and Penn State -- it opened the door for her to make an early commitment.
"That just made it a lot easier to think about each one individually," Stewart said.
The trip to the Storrs, Conn., campus was Stewart's third unofficial visit. And now there's no need to make any more. On Tuesday she announced her verbal commitment to the Huskies.
Stewart cited the proximity to her family's home in upstate New York as a factor in addition to the basketball-related considerations. And of her three finalists, she had the strongest bond with the Connecticut coaching staff and players.
With approximately 17 months before Stewart can officially step on campus as a Husky, several players from the current team will have graduated, starting with seniors Maya Moore and Lorin Dixon. Junior Tiffany Hayes will also have graduated and Caroline Doty, a redshirt junior, could be gone as well, depending on what she does with her redshirt season.
But for Stewart, her experience playing for USA Basketball has fostered relationships with two players that will be teammates during her tenure at UConn. Fellow junior Morgan Tuck, a 6-2 forward from Bolingbrook, Ill., joined Stewart on the U17 World Championship team that won FIBA gold this summer in France. At the time, Tuck, the No. 12 prospect in the 2012 class, was undecided, but committed to UConn in November after an unofficial visit.
Perhaps more significant was the relationship formed between USA teammate Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the ESPN HoopGurlz No. 1 senior in the country, as she was one of two players on the U17 roster who had made a college decision.
Mosqueda-Lewis was very forward with her opinion of Stewart and her desire to be teammates again when she coined the nickname "Baby Husky" for Stewart.
"She gave me that nickname and everyone knew it," Stewart said.
Stewart said that the recruitment efforts of Mosqueda-Lewis and other players she's become friends with through her extensive summers of travel basketball didn't impact her ultimate decision.
"I just blew it off," Stewart said of Mosqueda-Lewis' tactic at the time.
Whether it was wishful thinking or clairvoyance remains to be seen, but what is crystal clear is that Geno Auriemma's program is well equipped for life after Moore.
Stewart gives the Huskies the top player in consecutive classes. If history is any lesson, looking back on the recruiting hauls of 2006 and 2007, when UConn landed Tina Charles and Maya Moore back-to-back, the program isn't going to suffer any real rebuilding years.
But Stewart is also well aware of the heightened expectations placed on top players going to top programs.
"Being a UConn commit, if I have a bad game I know I'll hear, 'She doesn't look that good,' " Stewart said. "I have to keep my stuff in check. I think I'm just going to play the way I play."
Stewart is very certain of her decision, despite the recent transfer of freshman forward Samarie Walker. Stewart said the transfer happened right as she was becoming sure of where she wanted to go.
"Samarie leaving, it made me consider things about my commitment and to the level I want to play," Stewart said.
There aren't a lot of maybes with Stewart. She is the best player in her class, has proven herself against the best players in the United States and abroad, and she is committed to reaching her potential as a player. She has Olympic aspirations, including trying out for the U19 national team this spring, and she is positive that Connecticut is the right setting to make her goals happen.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relationships play a big part in Breanna Stewart's decision to commit early.