Breanna Stewart praises Caitlin Clark, is surprised at reaction to her comments

NEW YORK — Breanna Stewart has no animosity toward Caitlin Clark.

The reigning WNBA MVP called Clark a “great player” and praised the interest she’s brought to the women’s game.

“I think it’s amazing. The momentum behind women’s basketball, March Madness, obviously Caitlin and what she's been able to do and all the records she's breaking, and that carryover to draft night someone said this to me earlier and I think they said it perfectly: We're not talking about momentum anymore. We're talking about like sustaining. And that’s really what it should be,” Stewart said Wednesday at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic media summit.

“I’m really excited for what (Clark) is going to do in the W,” Stewart added.

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart drives to the basket against the Las Vegas Aces during the 2023 WNBA Finals at Barclays Center.
New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart drives to the basket against the Las Vegas Aces during the 2023 WNBA Finals at Barclays Center.

Stewart raised some eyebrows when she said before the Final Four that Clark, who became major college basketball’s all-time leading scorer this season, needed to win a national title in order to be included in the debate about greatest players. Clark led Iowa to the national title game the last two seasons, but the Hawkeyes lost to LSU last year and South Carolina earlier this month.

Stewart said she was somewhat surprised at the reaction to her comment, which was similar to what Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said before the title game. Staley was an All-American point guard and is still the only player on a losing team to be named Most Outstanding Player of the title game.

“It is a good thing that people are kind of continuing to have a debate and create controversy. Was I surprised? I guess yes and no, because if you think about, this question has been asked on the men's side over and over and over again (and) everybody’s arguing in different directions,” Stewart said, referring to the endless debate about whether Michael Jordan, LeBron James or someone else is the GOAT.

“The one thing I wish is that, in women's sports, I feel like people want to only have one person have success,” Stewart said. “This sport is so huge that we can all continue to grow together.”

Clark has driven interest in the women’s game to stratospheric heights. The championship game was watched by an average of 18.7 million viewers, outdrawing the men’s final for the first time ever. Monday night’s draft, in which Clark was the No. 1 pick, also shattered records. The 2.45 million viewers was five times higher than last year’s audience and a more than 300% increase from the previous record.

“The hardest part for her and all the other rookies is sustaining right now. You’re on this year where you’re going nonstop. That’s something I remember,” said Stewart, who was the No. 1 pick in 2016.

“You just went a whole preseason, a whole season in college, a whole NCAA tournament and now you’re going to start right over and play the most games in the shortest amount of time that you’ve ever done in your life.”

And that’s without possibly adding the Paris Olympics to the mix.

Stewart says she has no idea who will be on the 12-player roster for Paris. Or even when it will be announced.

Clark was added to the Olympic pool last month but was unable to participate in the last USA Basketball training camp because it occurred during the Final Four. While it’s rare for players to make an Olympic team right out of college, a few have — Stewart included.

“I remember my head, like, spinning,” Stewart said of playing in the Rio Olympics a few months after winning a fourth consecutive title at UConn. “I was just trying to be a sponge. I knew I was the youngest one on the Olympic team by far. So my advice would be to be a sponge and really just to take it all in because it's a lot.

“You know, a lot’s going to be thrown at Caitlin in her rookie year, anyway,” Stewart added, “and having a good vet by her to help her kind of navigate these situations is really important.”

The U.S. women are seeking their eighth consecutive gold medal, a staggering stretch of success. There are some who have questioned whether it makes sense to add Clark to the veteran team — and asked whom you’d leave off to make room for her.

No matter if Clark is in Paris or not, Stewart said she’s confident the 22-year-old will spend plenty of time in a Team USA uniform.

“What I want to do is play along with the other players named on this roster. And I don’t know who that’s going to be,” Stewart said. “But Caitlin has played with USA Basketball before and I don’t think her time with USA Basketball is going to be done anytime soon.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Breanna Stewart calls Caitlin Clark a 'great player'