HAMPTON ——She says that she needs to shoot better. She must improve her ballhandling. She needs to get stronger. She has to "think" the game better and become a more effective leader.
When Breanna Stewart talks about her game, her words might be those of any of hundreds of girls competing at Boo Williams' annual Nike Invitational tournament, not the consensus No. 1 junior in the country and a potentially transcendent talent.
In the mold of women's basketball icons Cheryl Miller and Candace Parker, longtime scout and evaluator Mike Flynn says.
Stewart is a 6-foot-4 category-defier in high-tops. She has a center's wingspan, a point guard's mentality and a walk-on's work ethic.
"She's a better person than she is a player," says Smith, who coaches Stewart at Cicero-North Syracuse High in upstate New York. "You don't know that she's the best basketball player in her class unless you watch her play.
"She understands that she has a gift, and she knows she has to work hard to maintain it, to get to where she wants to go. She doesn't take anything for granted."
Stewart, who plays for the Philly Belles elite travel team, is one of the celebrities at Boo's tournament this year, someone that other players stop to watch.
It wasn't uncommon during Stewart's high school season for opposing players and fans to ask for her autograph or take photos with her, after she and her team just finished drilling them.
"I think it's great," Stewart says of the attention and praise. "It's nice to hear, but you can't let it get to your head, and you have to keep working."
Stewart was one of several juniors on the U.S. under-17 national team that won the FIBA World Championship last summer, a squad that also included Princess Anne star and Duke signee Elizabeth Williams.
She averaged 24.3 points and 15 rebounds per game last season, leading her high school team to a 22-3 record and the state Class AA public school title.
"She's probably at about 60 percent of her abilities," says Flynn, director of the Philly Belles program for whom she plays in the summer. "She's got a lot more upside, and that's what makes her even more exciting.
"She's one of the rare — not few, rare — players who can challenge or block shots at the basket, but also take it down the floor and shoot the 3 or get into the lane for a layup, and that's rare for our sport."
Stewart's effective shooting range extends to the 3-point line. Though not as quick as many guards, she is a surprisingly effective ballhandler, in part because her long arms allow her to dribble as low as many true point guards.
She believes that her offense is catching up to her defense. She says that she's always been a more confident defender and shot blocker than offensive producer.
Like most players, Stewart watches a lot of basketball and tries to incorporate things others do. Current faves are Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki, players with perimeter abilities beyond the scope of players their height.
"Ironically, I think out of all the kids I have, she improved the most coming into this season," Smith says. "She was still No. 1 in her class, but she got stronger, which helped a lot with the double- and triple-teams that she sees. Her ballhandling and shooting improved.
"I'm sure that when she comes back in the fall for us next season, she'll improve that much more, working on the weaknesses in her game."
Stewart already committed to Connecticut, getting the decision out of the way and allowing her to focus on her game and her senior year.
"I felt ready," she says. "I have a great relationship with UConn and the coaching staff and the players, I like them all. It's where I feel like I'll be pushed to my limits."
Stewart pushes herself plenty. When asked what she must improve to succeed at the highest level of college ball, she immediately responds: "My shot."
Inside? Outside? Mid-range?
"Jump shot," she says. "I need to get in the gym more and just keep shooting, keep shooting the same way. I don't think I'm consistent enough, and I need to be more confident with it."
Smith says he challenges Stewart more mentally than physically: recognizing the flow of the game; picking the right spots to be assertive; encouraging and leading her teammates.
It's mostly fine-tuning for a player rated No. 1 in her class and who's usually the best player on the floor every time she laces them up, even if she doesn't see it that way.
"I don't really have that mindset," Stewart says. "I go out on the court and try to win the game, and do whatever I can to help my teammates win the game, and be as team-oriented as possible."