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Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm wins WNBA Rookie of the Year!

The long expected announcement was made official today as the WNBA named Breanna Stewart the Rookie of the Year.

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From the moment she put that Seattle Storm jersey on, the expectations for Breanna Stewart were sky high. She was drafted number one overall by Seattle, in the 2016 WNBA’s Draft. Stewart was coming off of four National titles at the University of Connecticut. She also had been named the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four all four years she was in college; something no other player has ever accomplished.

Stewart was faced with the challenge of turning the Seattle Storm franchise back around. After reaching the WNBA Playoffs for 10 straight years (including two Championships), the team had fallen from grace. The Storm were coming off their second worst season in franchise history in 2015, going 10-24 and missing the playoffs. Seattle also missed the playoffs in 2014, going 12-22, which was the worst record in the WNBA that year. Stewart was expected to immediately come in, make a huge impact and bring the team back to prominence.

To say she lived up to the hype, would be a huge understatement. Stewart earned Rookie of the Month honors during all four months of the WNBA season. Stewie ended up having one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. She played and started in all 34 games this year. She led the Storm in scoring and rebounding at 18.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG. She was 6th overall in the entire league in scoring, second overall in rebounding, and third overall in blocked shots (1.8 BPG). She also averaged 3.4 assists per game, proving that she is very much a team player. Stewart was 6th overall in league MVP voting, and her season stat lines are eerily familiar to Elena Delle Donne’s 2015 MVP season. Stewart is also expected to be a finalist for WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. Stewart also earned her first professional Gold Olympic medal with Team USA during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But most important of all, Breanna Stewart played a huge role in bringing the Seattle Storm back to the playoffs in just her first season in the league. The team went 16-18 in 2016, a six game improvement over the 2015 season. By most experts, the Storm were expected to finish in the bottom three of the league standings this year. They weren’t expected to make the playoffs for at least another year from now. And yet, Stewart brought her winning ways from Connecticut to Seattle immediately and helped Seattle earn the 7th seed in the 2016 WNBA Playoffs.

After Seattle had clinched their playoff spot this season with a victory late in the season against the Los Angeles Sparks, I asked Stewart about how she felt playing a huge role in bringing the Storm back to the playoffs. She had this say:

“It’s huge! I think that’s been our biggest goal. The drive to get this team to the playoffs because it hasn’t been done in a while. And a franchise like this that has been so dominant at times; getting us back is a huge first step. And let’s see what we can do after that!”

Stewie scored a career high 38 points in a home win against Atlanta on June 28th. And grabbed a career high 17 rebounds in a road loss to the New York Liberty on June 5th. She had 12 double-double’s in 34 games this season. And she was one assist shy of just the 2nd Triple Double in franchise history, during a 95-81 victory over Phoenix on June 3rd. She also set the all-time WNBA league record with 277 Defensive rebounds, surpassing the great Lisa Leslie who had 276 Defensive rebound during the 2004 season.

Breanna Stewart earned 38 of the 39 first place votes for Rookie of the Year. The one vote that didn’t go her way, was given to the number two overall pick and her former UConn team, Moriah Jefferson.

Stewart followed in her teammate Jewell Loyd’s footsteps. As Loyd earned Rookie of the Year honors for the 2015 season; Loyd was the first Seattle Storm player to earn the honor in franchise history. Now that Stewart has also won Rookie of the Year, Loyd and Stewart become the first two players in WNBA League history to win back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards for the same team.

After being eliminated in the playoffs by the Atlanta Dream, Breanna Stewart penned a letter to Storm fans after she had completed her very first season in Seattle.

“Dear Storm fans,

Thank you for your incredible support this season. I hope we made you proud. There were plenty of ups and downs, and we learned a lot but we accomplished one of our main goals in getting Seattle back in the WNBA Playoffs. I believe our team has a chance to do some special things in the near future and to build on the foundation of this year!

Having finished my rookie season and played in every WNBA city, I can truly say we have the most passionate fans in the league. The atmosphere of KeyArena is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard, and I can’t wait to play in front of you again next season.

This year has been a whirlwind, graduating from UConn, entering the WNBA and playing with USA Basketball at the 2016 Rio Olympics. From the very first day I arrived, you welcomed me with open arms to Seattle. I knew it wouldn’t be easy moving across the country to a new city, but your support helped me during the transition. I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable rookie season.

I look forward to seeing you all next summer!

Go Storm!