22 September, 2022
01 October
10 Breanna Stewart (USA)
Long Read
to read

In-depth with Breanna Stewart; 13 years of FIBA ballin

SYDNEY (Australia) - As Breanna Stewart stands ready to add to her amazing medal collection with the USA in Sydney, the biggest female hoops star has been taking a look back at her extensive FIBA journey.

Perhaps unknown to many fans and maybe even to some working within basketball itself, 'Stewie's' career is deeply rooted in her love of competing in FIBA competitions.

- Breanna Stewart


By her own admission, it has shaped her career and her outlook on life. Perhaps that is not surprising since her participation for more than 13 years spans from when she was a rising star baller in high school to now being at her third edition of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. 

Mexico 2009: The start of an amazing journey 

Some people say that timing is everything in life and certainly from a basketball standpoint, the USA ace came along just at the right time in terms of FIBA competitions at the youth level, which were being rejuvenated and expanded. 

In 2009, the FIBA U16 Americas Women's Championship was making its debut and so would a young 14-year-old Stewart. Although incredibly, she almost didn't go at all.

(Photo: USA Basketball)

"When I was going to the FIBA Americas U16’s in Mexico during 2009 and it was my first tournament, I was in shock," confessed Stewart.

"I just had this huge pride in representing USA, realizing that I made the team and I really had a lot of emotions. I even remember that my parents were like ‘we’re going, we’re going to be there, this is amazing’.

"That was the start. That was the start of the journey."

(Photo: USA Basketball)

She continued: "Looking back, I also remember when I got the USA trials invitation, it was Mike Flynn [Bluestar Basketball] who was the guy that really pushed my parents to even let me go. At first, they weren’t sure and maybe didn't really appreciate what it meant.

"Once I actually went there and I made the team, I was in the campus in Colorado Springs and saw everything about the Olympics and Paralympics. That gave me the idea and the goal that I wanted to be on the senior national team one day; and to represent my country at the highest level possible."

The USA were unstoppable in Mexico and romped to the top step of the podium, albeit with Stewart playing a modest role as the youngest member of the roster by far.

France 2010: Going global for first U17 Worlds

(Photo: USA Basketball)

As well as FIBA introducing the U16's to the Americas, that first competition also qualified the USA and Stewart for the inaugural FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup which took place in France.

It was packed with players who like Stewart herself, would eventually get to shine at the senior FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. Ballers such as Emma Meesseman, Jewell Loyd, Meng Li, Nirra Fields and Yuki Miyazawa. 

"Yeah, I guess I went global," laughed Stewart, reflecting on her first basketball trip outside of the Americas.

(Photo: USA Basketball)

"As that was my second tournament with USA basketball, it was becoming part of my routine. Although to get to go and play teams from all over the world for the first time was an amazing opportunity and experience.

"A lot of these players who were at the FIBA U17’s back then, we still cross paths with a lot. Whether it is in the WNBA, EuroLeague Women, the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup or at the Olympics.

"I think it’s obviously amazing that we were able to be one of the first at global tournaments, the first FIBA Americas U16 and the first FIBA U17 Women's Basketball World Cup," added Stewart.

She had collected her second gold medal as the USA captured the maiden title with an 8-0 record and Stewart averaging team second-bests of 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. 

Chile 2011: From Volcanic Ash Clouds to the Cold and the Gold

"What a long, long way it is to that part of Chile – wow," laughed Stewart as she looked back on her first FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup which took place in Puerto Mont, Chile.

"That’s what I remember most, because we were flying down there and then we had to detour and we were in the air forever."

The reason for the disruption was that a volcanic eruption in Chile had sent ash so high up into the atmosphere that flights flying out of countries are far away as Australia were canceled as a safety precaution.

Meanwhile Stewart also recalled the acute change in temperature, as well as the journey and basketball itself.

She said: "It was also my first time going below the equator and that meant in terms of the weather, it was winter. I remember it was so cold that we were practicing in sweat pants and a hoodie!

"Yeah, so Chile was my first FIBA U19 experience and there I was not only playing against players who were at the U17’s Worlds the year before, but also against some of the older group too.

"That was all about me being able to hold my own and play against those older players. Looking back now, I can’t truly say how grateful and appreciative I am for that opportunity."

Stewart was on fire and despite being younger than her teammates and most of the other players in the tournament, led the flawless USA in points and rebounds. Her amazing contributions resulted in her being crowned the USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year.

Lithuania 2013: Check that girl's passport...

When Steward landed in Lithuania for her second edition of the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup during 2013, she had continued to move closer to the center of the women's basketball radar.

Crowned MVP of the FIBA U18 Americas Women's Championship a year earlier with 14 points per game, she had captured her fourth gold medal with the USA.

Now she was contemplating the rarity of playing twice at the U19 FIBA World's - something that to her amusement, many people couldn't quite get their heads around.


"I remember that because I had played at the FIBA U19 Worlds before in 2011, some people were asking and checking how old I was – just making sure I was okay to actually play," smiled Stewart.

"By then, I knew my way around the competition. I knew what we all needed to be doing and I was able to do everything I could to help the team."

She certainly did that. Stewie bagged MVP honors after averaging an eye-catching 16.9 points per game on Lithuanian soil to take USA to another title.

Interestingly, while speaking about yet another gold medal, it prompted the forward to reflect on how her experience at the Pan-Am Games either side of Lithuania resulted in the unusual feeling of not topping the podium.

"The goal back then was always to win gold, even when you're a young player. And, if you don’t win gold, then you remember it even more," said Stewart.

"I remember the Pan-Am Games when we didn’t win gold. I think we were 7th when I played my first and I was still in high school. I don’t think we need to talk much about that one. I think in the other one we finished with a silver medal," she mused.

In 2011, Stewart had become only the second high school player in Pan American team history for the USA, following on from Nancy Lieberman, who played on the 1975 team, almost 20 years before Stewart was born.

Turkey 2014: Electric atmosphere and learning from legends

Just 12 months after the U19 Worlds in Lithuania, Stewart found herself having been elevated to the senior team and a FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup debut in Turkey.

"It was unbelievable and I really do remember being in Turkey. The atmosphere was electric. I think we played against Turkey and that was just wild.

"That was one of my first experiences with the senior national team and I had to make sure that I was like a sponge, soaking it all in. When I look back on that first FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, I feel like everything was spinning. I was like ‘seriously, what is happening?’

As a young player, Stewart played only 6 minutes per game, but this was the initiation and start of a cycle that would result in her being catapulted from bench player to MVP in Tenerife. 

She stated: "It was amazing to have my first FIBA Women's World Cup with people like Sue (Bird), Dee (Diana Taurasi) and Big G (Brittney Griner), plus some other vets who were there all showing me the ropes.

"That was a group that stayed together for a long time and we only just broke up last year and having shown me the way, they have now passed me the torch."

Spain 2018: The crowning


By 2018 at her second FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup, everything had changed. Stewart had an Olympic debut under her belt in Rio and was tearing up the WNBA. All of that hard work and success of the early days was now paying dividends. Het talent and infleunce was cascading relentlessly through her performances for club and country.

"I remember winning the WNBA Finals that year and getting on the plane and flying to Spain," said Stewart.

"It was ultra competitive and my role was way different. I was a starter and was able to have an impact in many different ways."

That typically uber-modest assessment speaks volumes of Stewart. She didn't just win another gold in Tenerife, she did so as MVP to add to her newly collected WNBA MVP and WNBA Finals MVP accolades with the Seattle Storm.

A constant factor for the Americans throughout the competition, she played far more minutes than any of her team-mates, which told the story. A leader for the USA for the next decade and beyond had arrived for real.

Forever grateful to the FIBA journey 

(Photo: USA Basketball)

Now contemplating yet another addition to her glittering resume at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Sydney, Stewart looks back on this FIBA journey with immense satisfaction and pride. Clearly acknowledging that it has been more than just a basketball journey.

She smiled: "To be able to travel to all these different countries is just an unbelievable experience. Seeing the kind of places that I would otherwise not have seen.

"On the court, I have obviously won gold medals but it has been about creating memories. I have learned so much since I started with the FIBA U16’s and FIBA U17’s and continued up the ranks.

"I mean also doing it with people alongside me because Betnijah (Laney) was with me at the U16’s at the start and is here in Sydney now. To be able to have all these memories and moments is just amazing.

"I have to also give credit to USA basketball who continue to do a great job of bringing people up the pipeline and allowing them to play against the best players in the world," concluded Stewart.