Basketball players

Former UConn basketball players embrace shared connection on the Storm – Hartford Courant

Sitting alongside fellow former UConn basketball players Sue Bird and Evina Westbrook on Tuesday, Breanna Stewart jokingly referred to the WNBA Storm as the “Seattle Huskies.”

The Storm have had several Huskies in the lead for some time now, including three last season with Bird and Stewart alongside Katie Lou Samuelson. That number increases to four this year with the addition of Westbrook through the draft as well as the acquisition of Gabby Williams through a trade to the Los Angeles Sparks for Samuelson. That’s the most UConn players on any WNBA roster.

“We all kind of have the same background, that pedigree, and we always look out for each other,” Bird said. “So I think it’s a great place for (Westbrook) to come into a place that has other UConn players. And the program, I know they haven’t won for a few years, but a thing they do is prepare people for the WNBA.

Both Bird and Stewart said they were excited when the Storm selected Westbrook with the 21st pick.

“I think she’s a player who obviously can affect the game on both sides,” Stewart said. “She’s smart, she’s kind of been through it all on and off the pitch and just gives us a new presence that we need. And there’s a UConn connection because whether we play together or not, it’s a family, and I just want to continue to help her in that process like she helps us.

Westbrook said the first three days of training camp have “been a huge adjustment so far.” As is the case with many rookies, the 6-foot guard felt a bit out of sync at times as they got to grips with each drill and how the team operated. But having familiar veterans like Bird and Stewart (Williams always finishes his season away) made the process easier.

“They were rookies once, so they totally understand what it’s like,” Westbrook said. “As Sue said, we have the same kind of pedigree coming from Connecticut. Coach [Geno Auriemma] prepares us for all that we have been through. …So I definitely felt ready to go in, I just knew it was going to be a big change. And it was, but it’s just adjusting every day and they told us.

Bird thinks Westbrook’s versatility will help the Storm this season, adding there’s a lot about the rookie’s game that she hasn’t even exploited yet.

Meanwhile, the 41-year-old Bird, who has often spoken publicly about how she struggles with the decision to retire, is set to enter her 19th season in the league.

“Of course I want to win,” Bird said. “That’s where the good stuff is, isn’t it?” Like this journey with a team trying to reach the final, trying to reach the championship trophy so you can hoist this thing.

The WNBA’s all-time assist leader said she hasn’t changed too much in terms of conditioning in the offseason, but needs to be more aware of how her body is changing to refine certain areas.

“It’s really about just trying to be in the best shape possible,” Bird said. “But nothing (is) like playing basketball. So, like everyone else, I’m preparing for training camp.

Stewart returned to training camp after undergoing minor preventative Achilles surgery last October, according to an ESPN report.

“I just really try to get a lot of reps, a lot of game action, scrum action, and take it one day at a time and do what I can to get back on the court,” said Stewart said. “I think I’ve been doing five out of five since March. Now it’s a little faster, the build-up, but I’ll be ready when the first game starts.

The Storm are set to face another UConn heavyweight team in their final preseason game on April 28 against the Phoenix Mercury, led by Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles – Kia Nurse is also on the roster but is recovering from an ACL torn.

Lila Bromberg can be reached at [email protected] and @LilaBBromberg on Twitter.