- Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm is expected to miss the 2019 WNBA season after rupturing her right Achilles tendon while playing in Europe, she announced on Twitter on Wednesday
Stewart, 24, playing for Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, was hurt Sunday in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Sopron, Hungary. She had an MRI on Monday in Los Angeles after flying back from Europe, and the results weren’t reviewed by a physician until Wednesday.
“First off, I just want to thank you for the tremendous amount of love and support I’ve received over the past few days,” Stewart said in her announcement. “The situation is still a shock to me. … This year especially has been amazing and filled with lots of success and as we all know there are highs and lows throughout a career.
“This is just another obstacle that I will overcome. I’m thankful that I have so many people in my corner to help me every step of the way. I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) April 17, 2019
Stewart will undergo surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic. The Storm said Stewart is expected to make a full recovery for the start of the 2020 season.
“This is a tough time for Stewie and our hearts go out to her,” Storm CEO Alisha Valavanis said in a statement. “The Storm family is behind her and we will support Stewie in every way we can as she begins her journey back to the court.”
Stewart led the Storm to the franchise’s third WNBA title last September and then helped the United States win the gold medal in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup later the same month. She was MVP for the WNBA Finals and the World Cup, and last month was named the EuroLeague’s regular-season MVP as well.
Stewart also played for United States in the 2016 Olympics and is still expected to be a key part of the 2020 Olympic team. Generally, rehabilitation for an Achilles injury lasts nine months to a year.
WNBA great Tamika Catchings injured her Achilles on Sept. 3, 2007, and played in the 2008 Olympics and in 25 of the Indiana Fever’s 34 games in that 2008 season.
Like most WNBA players, Stewart also competes overseas to maximize her income. Stewart made $56,793 in base salary last season with the Storm, earning bonuses of a $15,000 for being MVP, $11,025 for winning the WNBA title, $10,000 for being All-WNBA first team and $2,500 for being in the All-Star Game.
She was slated to make $64,538 this WNBA season in base salary.
While at UConn from 2012 to ’16, Stewart won four NCAA titles and was named the Women’s Final Four most outstanding player each time. She was part of two undefeated seasons with the Huskies, in 2013-14 and 2015-16, and finished her college career with 2,676 points, 1,179 rebounds and 414 blocked shots.
The 6-foot-4 Stewart, a native of Syracuse, New York, was drafted No. 1 by the Storm in April 2016 and was rookie of the year that season. Last season, her third in the league, she averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 blocked shots for the Storm during the regular season. Her scoring average went up during the playoffs, as she averaged 24.6 points. The Storm swept the Washington Mystics 3-0 in the WNBA Finals.
In her WNBA career, Stewart has averaged 20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 blocks.
Stewart, who doesn’t turn 25 until August, had missed only one game in her three seasons in the WNBA. She played her first two overseas seasons in China, then went to Russia for 2018-19. Stewart had a knee ligament injury while playing in China in January 2017, but it did not impact her WNBA season that year.
Stewart was hurt near the end of the first half Sunday as she went up for a jump shot and came down in considerable pain. She had to be helped off the court. Dynamo Kursk fell 91-67 to UMMC Ekaterinburg, which won its fifth EuroLeague title.
Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot led UMMC with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the winners.
UMMC Ekaterinburg and Dynamo Kursk will face each other again in a three-game series for the Russian League championship starting April 20. The WNBA season begins May 24.
The near yearlong schedule for many women’s players has been a reality since the WNBA launched in 1997. Some top players, including the Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and the Atlanta Dream’s Angel McCoughtry, have taken a WNBA season off to rest. Generally, players are paid more overseas.
Stewart’s likely absence for the 2019 season is a huge blow to the Storm, who hoped to become the first team to repeat as WNBA champion since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. The Storm’s previous titles were in 2004 and 2010; point guard Sue Bird, 38, has been part of all three Storm championship teams.
The Storm isn’t the only WNBA squad that will be without a major star this season. The four-time champion Minnesota Lynx won’t have 2014 MVP Maya Moore, like Stewart a UConn grad and former No. 1 draft pick (2011). Moore, 29, announced earlier this year that she was taking off the 2019 season to focus on her other interests and her family after eight seasons of playing in the WNBA and overseas.
The status of Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage is uncertain, as she has requested a trade and might not play if it doesn’t happen. Cambage, an Australian who was the No. 2 pick behind Moore in 2011, returned to the WNBA last season after a four-year absence. She averaged a league-best 23.0 points per game, along with 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.