Former Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd keeps looking forward in WNBA

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Two years of professional basketball — in Seattle, as well as China — have put Jewell Loyd’s amazing collegiate career at Notre Dame in the rear-view mirror.

A distant memory that she’s not fond of re-visiting.

“I’m always focusing on the now, not the past: Are we going to get better?” Loyd said. “Just worried about my life right now.”

The end of her junior season (2015) with the Irish was a tumultuous time. Shortly after losing to Connecticut in the NCAA Championship game, Notre Dame was dealt another blow when Loyd, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, announced she would pass up her senior year to play pro ball.

Several factors appeared to be in play. That decision allowed her to become the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm, separating her from Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart, another junior who was the consensus top player in college basketball.

It also came out later, when Loyd penned a story for The Players Tribune, that she battled dyslexia, which made school a challenge. She has since been named an international ambassador for Dyslexic Advantage, and is a spokesperson for Eye to Eye, another organization to help people with learning disabilities.

“(A player) has to figure out if they’re ready (to play professional ball), mentally and physically,” Loyd said of the advice she would give to another junior weighing a similar decision. “When you go to the next level, nothing is guaranteed.

“You have to be ready to be an adult; to take on the responsibilities of an adult.

“You don’t really know until you leave. If you’re not ready to compete against professionals and be challenged at the highest level, then maybe you’re not ready to take the next step. It depends on the person.

“I’ve always competed against people older than me. I’ve always competed against guys. I knew I could hold my own. I looked forward to going to the next level and learning from the great ones.

“I never second-guessed myself. I knew that I was going to be in good hands. I prayed about it a lot. Talked to my family. I knew it was the right decision.”

Loyd, who has vowed to get her college degree at some point, has done quite well with her decision.

After being the Storm’s top pick, she went on to earn WNBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, averaging 10.7 points and 1.9 assists (also 3.5 rebounds) as a shooting guard. Last year, she took the next step with 16.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists while being chosen second-team All-WNBA.

While the WNBA regular season consists of 34 games over four months, most players not named Skylar Diggins-Smith (Skylar is one of the few who can make her offseason living with camps, endorsements and personal appearances) head overseas to maintain their game and make money. Loyd just recently got back from China.

Step No. 3 starts Saturday when Seattle opens the season on the road against Los Angeles.

Ironically, the Storm was in a position to have the first pick in the draft again in ’16. Stewart was the selection.

Behind the 6-4 Stewart, who also won Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 18.3 points, and Loyd, Seattle found its way into the playoffs. The Storm was eliminated in the first round.

But … it’s a start.

“I grew up a little bit (after that first season),” Loyd said. “I learned the game a little bit better. I got more confident in the system here in Seattle. The coaches and everyone else went out of their way to help me.”

The development process is constantly evolving. Loyd has leaned on veterans Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson (now retired) for direction.

“Understanding the mentality is important,” Loyd said. “The WNBA is the toughest competition in the world. Every game is tough. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s a grind.

“You’re up 20 (points), then all of a sudden you’re down 20.

“For us, here in Seattle, it’s important to keep our focus. We’ve got great fans. We love playing in front of them. The energy’s great. You’ve gotta remember: Never get too high; never get too low.

“I’m always trying to work on shooting; work on range. Finishing around the basket is something I’m trying to improve. I’m understanding the game better; watching a lot of film. I’m trying to be smarter on the court with my decision-making.”

Loyd’s life has been all about big decisions since 2015.

Even if she doesn’t like to look back.

Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd smiles during a team basketball practice Monday, April 24, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)