There's no way that even two years ago Breanna Stewart would have expected to be a finalist in the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American Game. But the 6-foot-3 forward and Connecticut recruit soared into the air, caught a lob pass and dunked with two hands. On her second attempt, she used only one hand to captivate the crowd.
But it's not the dunks that were truly impressive. It's the courage to even enter the competition, which has traditionally been dominated by boys, that showed how far the nation's top-ranked recruit has come.
We've all seen that contestant on "American Idol" who is so humble and celebrated by the judges. Then, by the third week, the shocked look on the contestant's face starts to seem forced or disingenuous.
But for the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year, the Wooten Award winner and the No. 1 prospect in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100, it's not an act. It's a reality check. Stewart, who will represent the East squad Wednesday night at the McDonald's All-American Game (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU), knows that without substantial opportunity the seemingly unending accolades would not have come.
"I try to stay grounded," said the Cicero-North Syracuse (Cicero, N.Y.) senior. "There still is so much I can improve on."
The awkwardness in talking about herself has subsided quite a bit. Stewart does appreciate what she has accomplished, which includes USA Basketball national team gold medals for the under-16, -17 and -19 teams as well as a spot on the Pan American Games team in the fall. She also was named the women's player of the year by USA Basketball.
Stewart knows she's earned the respect to garner such praise, but where she stops is in taking credit for it all. She points to the spring of 2009, after a strong showing with a local New York club team, when she was offered a spot on the Nike-sponsored Philadelphia Belles club team.
"It gave me a chance to play better competition," Stewart said.
With the national competition came a large group of media -- journalists and scouting service operators -- who wanted time with the budding star. Stewart, even early on, was always respectful with the media, even the international media, but her guard was up.
Much of that hesitancy was due to the constant fishing for a lead on where she was leaning in her recruitment.
"I think now, I've just done so many interviews that I'm comfortable with it," she said.
So as the sun sets on Stewart's high school career, her growth has prepared her well for the rigors of starring in Storrs. She is ready to embrace her stardom while maintaining her humble roots in upstate New York.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.