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Breanna Stewart on Jonquel Jones, Paige Bueckers and today’s WNBA

Breanna Stewart
(Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images)

Syracuse native Breanna Stewart’s on-court resume is so stacked, it’s hard even for basketball insiders to fully absorb it. The two-time WNBA champion and two-time Finals MVP has won arguably every prestigious championship and MVP honor available in her sport, from four national titles in a row at UConn to a EuroLeague Championship and MVP award in Russia to two Olympic gold medals, not to mention all of her WNBA accolades.

Given all she has accomplished, we can smile and nod when, in a recent interview for Just Women’s Sports, Stewart says, “I’m 27, so I’m getting a little old now.” It’s even more understandable given the fact she has a 4-month-old infant at home with wife and fellow pro baller Marta Xargay.

Despite feeling a bit beyond her years, Stewart has her sights set on more WNBA championships.

“To be able to say that I’ve won twice already in six years, and I didn’t play one season is kind of crazy,” she says. “I believe that I’m going to have more moments to win more rings, but I’m just making sure that I don’t lose sight of what I have done and then continue to want to do more.”

And she is well aware of the amount of work it will continue to take to win more rings.

“I think everybody has to have a little bit of crazy in them when they’re at this level, and a little bit of obsessiveness to want to work out, and want to be in the gym, and want to do things that nobody else would want to do,” Stewart says. “But that’s how you get to where you are.”

While she no doubt has “a little bit of crazy” when it comes to working on her personal game, Stewart has always had a sound, mature perspective of her place in the bigger picture. She cares deeply about the success of the women’s game as a whole and many other social causes.

Upon graduating from UConn, Stewart was awarded the ESPY for Best Female Athlete and used her 60-second acceptance speech, by far the biggest platform she’d ever been given, to call out the media for its lack of attention to the WNBA. There’s no doubt her popularity and unbelievable talent on the court have been significant factors in the growth the W has had in recent years. And she’s happy to acknowledge the improvements she’s seen since winning that ESPY in 2016.

“I think the women’s game is in a really great place right now. I think that we’re continuing to trend upward as far as what we’re doing, how we’re perceived by media, how we’re gaining attention,” she says. “Media outlet companies are getting behind women, it seems like, at a much faster rate than they were probably 5 to 10 years ago.”

She also likes what she sees in the next generation of players, specifically fellow UConn Husky Paige Bueckers, who was off to a strong encore to her historic National Player of the Year freshman season before injuring her knee and having surgery performed last week.

“Her future is super, super bright,” Stewart says of Bueckers. “She has so much potential. She’s already doing great things now, but she’s at the right place to want to continue to be the best because Coach Auriemma is not going to treat her any different than anybody else.”

While she sees much to be optimistic about, Stewart also knows there’s still a long way to go. A recent source of frustration for her has been the low-key fanfare for 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, who’s clearly one of the best players on the planet but hasn’t been given the media attention that comes with it.

“She won MVP and I still don’t think she got the props or the flowers that she deserves. I think people need to realize that and appreciate her game for being 6-6, 6-7, able to shoot the 3, handle it, play in the post,” Stewart says of her versatile on-court adversary.

The fact that fans still can’t get a pre-printed Jonquel Jones jersey from the WNBA Store is just the latest example of long-standing frustration with the lack of quantity, variety and accessibility of WNBA merchandise, something the league is hoping to remedy with its new partnership with DICK’s Sporting Goods (on whose site Jones’ jersey was stocked and ready to ship at the time of writing).

“The fact that she won MVP, she deserves more than what she’s getting. That’s for sure,” says Stewart.

As a player who knows the value of fan engagement in helping to grow the game, Stewart is often at the forefront of enhancing that connection. She’s got her signature shoe with Puma coming out in 2022. Most recently, she’s teamed up with Brandon Steiner, CEO of CollectibleXchange, as a feature athlete for The Collective Marketplace, an online platform that sells memorabilia and merchandise for athletes exclusively in women’s sports.

In teaming up with The Collective Marketplace, Stewart has opened a whole new pathway for fans to connect with her. She has nearly 200 personally worn and autographed items available for sale on the site taken directly from her own closet.

“I think it’s a great way to engage with the fans,” Stewart says. “I had all of these sneakers and jerseys and practice things … You keep them all because they’re amazing. But now you’re able to have them be reachable and, I guess, accessible to fans. And fans are able to really have a different type of relationship than just a player-fan relationship.”

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi have also joined The Collective Marketplace. Stewart says of Taurasi, her WNBA rival and USA Basketball teammate, “I’d much rather be on the court with D, playing with her than against her. She’s just a killer, super competitive, obviously can hit the 3 like no other. Her IQ is off the charts.”

Just like Taurasi did for many years, Stewart is contracted to play overseas in Russia this winter with a stacked UMMC Ekaterinburg team. But her participation in the 2021-22 EuroLeague season is up in the air as she’s currently recovering from a minor surgery that repaired and reinforced the left Achilles tendon she injured late in the WNBA season (not the same one she ruptured in 2019). The decision for her to miss the Storm’s final two regular season games and their playoff showdown against Taurasi and the Mercury all but guaranteed Seattle wouldn’t repeat as league champions after winning it all in 2020.

Heading into what’s expected to be a wild 2022 WNBA free agency period, Stewart is one of four former league MVPs who are unrestricted free agents this offseason: Jonquel Jones, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles are the other three. With Bird still undecided about returning and Jewell Loyd entering restricted free agency, there is a lot up in the air for Seattle this offseason. But it’s impossible to imagine a scenario where the Storm don’t fight tooth and nail to keep their franchise player, and without making an official announcement, Stewart revealed she’s not envisioning playing anywhere else next year.

“We’re just going to take it one step at a time, see where my leg is at. And if I can play [in Russia], then maybe I’ll play. If not, I’ll make sure I’m ready for the Storm season — or the WNBA season,” she says.

An unplanned WNBA offseason at home in the states could be a blessing for Stewart to fully rehab while venturing into parenthood with her wife and baby daughter. And while her offseason routine and off-court home life may be quite different this year, her laser focus to succeed on the court is as strong as ever.

“I think it’s just coming with the preparation, the understanding of what it takes to win and making sure that when I’m out on the court, I’m not wasting my time or anyone else’s,” Stewart says of sustaining her peak level of performance.

“I feel as a basketball player, your goal should always be winning. When you step on the court, you should always be focused on winning.”

(Editor’s note: The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports)

Tessa Nichols is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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