Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
ike Flynn was eating dinner in New York City when he was interrupted by a call from Derrick Mullen, who told Flynn that he needed to watch a certain player at the Rose Classic high school girls basketball tournament. So Flynn left dinner and headed to the game.
On the court, Flynn — the founder of the Philadelphia Belles Amateur Athletic Union team — saw a thin, 6-foot-2 player holding the ball above her head with arms that Allie Bessetti, an assistant coach for the Belles, described as long enough to “tie her shoes standing up straight.” After Stewart made a few plays, Flynn was amazed at the way she played, which he said reminded him of Kevin Garnett. Curious, Flynn went up to the scorer’s table to find out more about her. They told him that she was only a freshman and that her name was Breanna Stewart.
After the tournament game ended, Flynn approached Stewart’s father, Brian, and urged him to let his daughter try out for the Belles. Brian initially ignored Flynn’s request. A few weeks later, Flynn drove up to Stewart’s hometown of Syracuse to try his luck again with the Stewarts, asking Brian and Heather Stewart to bring their daughter to Philadelphia to watch the Belles practice. The next week, Brian and Stewart drove three hours from Syracuse to Philadelphia. Brian told Stewart to bring her basketball shoes just in case.
On the Belles’ roster, there were Division I-caliber players with offers from schools such as Duke and North Carolina, but that didn’t faze Stewart, who wasn’t available for an interview.
“We really just went there for her to watch and see what it was all about,” Brian said. “But she went out there. She had her sneakers and she wanted to get out there with them.”
Despite being younger than many of the players, Stewart fit in with girls her height and skill level, her father said. She joined the Belles after visiting.
Later that summer, Stewart dominated the court while playing with the Belles at the Boo Williams AAU tournament in Virginia. At one point, the Belles star blocked a player’s shot, grabbed the rebound, passed it out to her teammate and sprinted the length of the court to get the ball back for a layup — a rare play for girls of Stewart’s height. Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt watched Stewart from the sidelines and told Flynn that Stewart was the “best player she’s seen in the last ten years.”