first_img Published on April 4, 2016 at 6:08 pm Contact Connor: [email protected] | @connorgrossman Facebook Twitter Google+ INDIANAPOLIS — Breanna Stewart longed for a homecoming. Three years after foregoing an opportunity to play at Syracuse to attend Connecticut, she craved an opportunity to be on the Carrier Dome’s court again.In a way, she expected it to happen. It’s not uncommon for teams to schedule road games in players’ hometowns before graduating. But SU head coach Quentin Hillsman maintained there wasn’t time, that “it didn’t fit into the schedule” to go up against the three-time defending national champions.So a reunion in the stadium “five minutes” from her backyard never happened. Stewart insists that there’s no ill feelings. That she has a good relationship with Hillsman and even Jim Boeheim. That she’s thrilled for the once-upstart program to play in its first national title game.That this may be the most fitting way for her illustrious college career to end. Playing her hometown team for the first time in three years, trying to sweep a career of four national titles.“It feels like everything is coming full circle,” Stewart said. “…Having an opportunity to finish it off against (Syracuse) is special. To be closing my career against the team that I grew up watching, and having attended their games, it’s cool to say that in the national championship game you are playing against your hometown team.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe North Syracuse native will take the court on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. for the last time with Connecticut (37-0, 18-0 American Athletic), playing in the national championship against a Syracuse (30-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) team that hadn’t ever advanced past the Round of 32 NCAA tournament game until this year. Not only is the lanky, 6-foot-4 guard looking to win fourth-straight title, she’s on the precipice of winning the Most Outstanding Player award in each tournament.Her ties to the Orange are stronger than her home address. Stewart remembers watching all the Syracuse games she could with her dad, eating nachos among the few hundred fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome. She’s best friends with guard Brittney Sykes, who she was teammates with on the Philadelphia Belles AAU team in high school. The two will meet on the court for the first time since the 2013 Big East tournament, and are even more years removed from a time when the two high-profile recruits tried swinging the college basketball pendulum and play together.“Yeah, you know it’s a little secret story,” Sykes’ said of her recruiting plans with Stewart. “She chops me up about my decisions and I get her for hers.“She wanted to be coached by Geno (Auriemma) and I wanted to be coached by Quentin (Hillsman). So we’ve both done great things for each program.”It might not ever be known how close Syracuse was to nabbing one of the best basketball products ever to come out of the area. Stewart’s high school coach, Eric Smith, recalled the Orange as one of her last 3-5 schools. Stewart said SU was in her top 10. Belles head coach Fran Burbidge knows Syracuse was in the conversation.He had several of his own with Stewart and her family as they tried to grasp the best option. Burbridge forced Stewart out of her comfort zone of “political correctness” and into a blunter mindset. Getting her to acknowledge that she was the best player in the country, and to more clearly spell out her goals.Burbridge recalls Stewart explaining that she wanted four national championships, a platform to make Olympic teams and a premier program to do it all for. At the time, SU hadn’t ever won an NCAA tournament game. The Huskies were en route to another national championship game.The numbers spoke for themselves, and it wasn’t a hard choice in the mind of her soon-to-be head coach.“No frills, no drama,” Auriemma said of Stewart’s recruitment. “(It was,) ‘Coach, I just want to play basketball. I just want to win a national championship. I want to be the best player in the country, period.’“I said, ‘Good. So sign on the dotted line.’”And she did, on the hood of her dad’s car in downtown Syracuse. Her signature torpedoed the conversation of what could have been for an SU program, desperately trying to garner relevance in a market dominated by their male counterparts.But finally the talk can dissipate. There’s no relevance to Hillsman’s reasoning about not facing the Huskies earlier this season. There’s no relevance to Stewart winning the last three championships while the Syracuse community wondered what could have been for its own program.It’s happening. SU is playing in the national championship. Stewart’s final collegiate game will be against the team she quietly cheered for this year, and every one before that. The one who’s gear she still owns, and the one she’s longer been familiar with than her own.“Seeing them being here in the Final Four, you know, I’m over-the-top happy,” Stewart said. “… It’s nice to see their program finally take that next step.” Commentslast_img

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