Sports

/

ArcaMax

Former UConn stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird adjusting to WNBA bubble after injuries — and eyeing another title with Storm

Alexa Philippou, The Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

Even as they're getting re-adjusted to things on the practice court, Stewart and Bird used the same word to describe their first few days of training camp: "weird."

"Yesterday was the first time I've had somebody touch me on the court," Bird said. "So that was kind of weird. I think we're all kind of in the same boat, though, so we're just getting through it and getting used to the contact, because it's a whole different beast once people start hitting each other."

"We're big on routines," Stewart added. "We're in our huddle and (interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg) is going to talk to the team and the first day I was like, 'I don't remember my spot,' like I don't remember where I used to stand because I haven't been here two years, you know? Things like that.

"It's just kind of like catching on quickly. It's almost like we have to take some steps backwards to get everybody on the same page again -- because Sue and I haven't been here, we added three new pieces -- and then we have to go forward a little bit.?

Kloppenburg said he'll assess the need for minutes restrictions for a player like Bird, a 16-year veteran who will turn 40 in October, closer to the season's start and based on how she feels as it proceeds. Stewart was able to play without any limitations by the end of her stint overseas, though even prior to the nationwide shutdown in March she was still working on building her right calf strength and getting power off single-leg jumps. With the WNBA season delayed from its original mid-May start, Stewart used the extra time off to fully heal her leg and says some things, like her balance, are coming back better than ever.

Kloppenburg so far has seen elements of Stewart's game (specifically her ball-handling and 3-point shooting) that are improvements over her pre-injury self. That's a scary proposition considering Stewart's professional dominance in her first three WNBA seasons, when she averaged 20 points per game on 48.9% shooting (37.6 on threes) and 8.8 rebounds per game. Kloppenburg said the team could utilize some bigger lineups with Stewart playing as a small forward or as a guard.

 

Even if it takes time for Stewart to get into the swing of things, with her back on the floor -- along with the likes of Bird, Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and a deep bench -- it's no wonder the Storm are among the favorites to win it all once more this fall.

Kloppenburg said of Stewart, "She's such a hard worker. I think the setback, the adversity of that injury, made her even more determined to become an even better player than she is. And from what I've seen so far, she did that. She's an amazing player and person, but she's just got that. She's got it, she's got the it factor. And she wants to be the best and drives herself, and that's what I've seen so far with her."

(c)2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.