NASHVILLE — Breanna Stewart, The Associated Press national player of the year, was named the Ann Meyers Drysdale national player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association at a news conference at Bridgestone Arena Sunday.
She is the second UConn sophomore to win the honor (Maya Moore, 2009). UConn director of athletics Warde Manuel accepted the honor on Stewart's behalf.
Stewart is also a finalist for the Wade Trophy, Wooden Award and Naismith Award. Other UConn players to pick up the USBWA honor are Rebecca Lobo (1995), Diana Taurasi (2003), Moore (2009, 2011) and Tina Charles (2010).
Tampa, Fla., the site of the 2015 Final Four, might be the place the next generation of UConn stars makes its first big play in the world of women's basketball.
But for now, all kids such as Gabby Williams can do is daydream about what might lie ahead for them. And she is doing it in Nashville, live and in person.
"This year's Final Four is going to be really exciting for me to watch, because I know that I'm actually going to be at UConn in just a couple months," Williams said Sunday morning. "It's a lot more surreal that it's actually going to be me out there next year! This is actually my first time being at the Final Four and so far the atmosphere has been awesome. The fans have been so great and the games haven't even started yet.
"It's also really crazy to me that if they win and go undefeated, it'll be up to us incoming freshmen to keep that streak going. It's pressure, but it's the kind of pressure you want as a basketball player especially when you're going to a school like UConn. I just can't believe that it's finally almost time to for me to officially be a Husky."
Williams, Courtney Ekmark, Sadie Edwards and Kia Nurse join the Huskies next season. On April 16, UConn finds out if 6-3 forward A'ja Wilson of South Carolina, the top-ranked high school senior, will choose the Huskies over South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Something Special About Stanford
Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford's sensational senior All-American, the likely first-round pick of the Connecticut Sun, was heavily recruited by UConn. But she decided on Palo Alto, just like her sister, Nneka, who was also a Cardinal All-American and now plays for the Los Angeles Sparks. Chiney loves her school.
"I think that Stanford overall grooms you to be ready for life," Chiney said. " And I think I'm experiencing that right now. And when people ask us what's the great thing about Stanford, it's the people, people like Coach Tara, people like Bernard Muir, the AD, people like President [John] Hennessy. We just have great support staff that give you the confidence to be who you are and discover who you are. And you feel more confident as a person, so when you're confident as a person, you can go out there and you know football or basketball comes easy.
"I think just being able to go to Stanford University has been a huge blessing for all of us. We all have different stories, but at the end of the day, we all love each other, as people come first. So we're willing to do anything on the court. That's like the easy part."
VanDerveer On Stewart
Stewart is only the third sophomore ever to win the AP award. VanDerveer's evaluation of her ability is worth reviewing.
"It's who all she plays with [that makes her special]," VanDerveer said. "By herself out there, she would be another 6-foor-4 kid with some versatility. But we played against some of that. Stewart plays with [Stefanie] Dolson, who allows her to play 4 [power forward]. She plays with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis who forces you to spread the floor. Or she plays with [Moriah] Jefferson, who gets steals and creates for her. So she's a very talented player. But the story of Connecticut is not just one player.
"That was evidenced by their four All Americans. They have the most talented team in the country. When you're playing with other really talented players, as LeBron James wanted to, as Michael Jordan did, when you're around other players, in some ways there's less pressure on you and there's this synergy, and it makes life easier. So she's very, very good. And she brings a great dimension to their team. But they are clearly not a one-person team. That's why they repeatedly win."
It's no secret that not all coaches understand Geno Auriemma, and the way that eventually manifests itself is in their refusal to play UConn. But VanDerveer is not one of those coaches. Stanford has played UConn in the regular season the past four seasons and will play again in Palo Alto next in the first week of the 2014-15 season.
"He's just done a fabulous team with his teams. I respect the job. I learn from him. I think he's very funny," VanDerveer said. "I have him in my cellphone, and I can call him at any time or text with him. I consider him a friend. We don't really recruit that much against each other just because of the different kids that we're looking at, but everything that I know about it has been always professional."
Auriemma On AAC
Auriemma is frequently asked what he feels the long-term impact of being in the American Athletic Conference will be for his program. He was asked again at the Final Four and remained on-point with his response.
"I have a lot of respect for everybody. But I respect certain teams," Auriemma said. "I don't respect conferences. A lot of teams playing in big-time conferences haven't won a damn thing in their careers. So I'd rather be in our conference and win them all instead of being in another conference."
Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa is a teammate of Nurse on the Canadian national team that will be playing in the world championship in Turkey from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5 … Former UConn All-American Svetlana Abrosimova is an analyst for the Stanford-UConn game on Russian television.