Seven seasons of memorable and stellar play at Niles West High School and the University of Notre Dame—earning all-American honors at both levels—reached a crescendo for Jewell Loyd on April 16 when she became the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm.
“It was definitely an awesome experience to hear your name called and be with your family,” said Loyd recently from Seattle. “It was a great experience.”
The junior sensation decided to declare for the draft the day after Notre Dame lost to UConn in the NCAA championship for the second straight year, but her decision to forego her senior season with the Irish was based on wanting to achieve certain goals for herself, not on the outcome of the title game.
“I wrote down a list of what I wanted to do and accomplish,” she said, “and it was the right thing for me and my family.”
Loyd mentioned that she has been getting council from none other than NBA superstar Kobe Bryant on Twitter.
“He’s been a great mentor of mine,” she said. “He’s been willing to help me out so much, and communicating with a legend (has been helpful). We talk more about off-court stuff more than on-court stuff.”
Setting, and achieving goals, is par for the course for Loyd. She used to do the same thing during her four-year varsity career at Niles West, noted Wolves coach Tony Konsewicz.
“Jewell is a basketball kid,” Konsewicz said. “She eats it and breathes it. She knew she was going to play college basketball and pro someplace; that was her goal. I learned a long time ago never to doubt her when she says something about basketball.”
Konsewicz didn’t get the opportunity to watch Loyd take the podium after getting drafted No. 1 the night it occurred because he was coaching in his daughter Jackie’s softball league, but he watched it later.
“I had a great sense of pride and that I was able to coach her,” he said. “I almost feel like a proud father. It’s really a special time.”
Konsewicz said he and Loyd keep in touch. He didn’t try to text her the night of the draft, instead waiting until the next morning.
“I figured she was bombarded (with text messages the night of the draft),” he said. “The next day I texted her and not more than five minutes (later) I received a text back from her.”
“I have a great relationship with Coach K and (Niles West assistant) Mike Parker,” Loyd said, “and I still keep in touch with (former teammate) Molly Kleppin.”
Niles West senior Katherine DeLara, a starting guard for the Wolves who concluded a four-year varsity career this past March, was Loyd’s teammate during her senior year in 2011-12. She did watch Loyd get drafted and said she “thought it was awesome.”
“I knew she was really good,” DeLara said. “Just four years ago we were at the same school and on the same team. A lot of people have asked me about it. ‘Didn’t you play with her your freshman year?’ ‘Yes I did.’ ”
DeLara called Loyd “a really good teammate.”
“It was really awesome being able to play with someone so talented,” DeLara said. “Coming in from middle school and not knowing what high school basketball was all about, I know I got a lot better just by playing with such a talented player.”
Niles West compiled a 93-31 record during Loyd’s career as a four-year starter, winning three regional titles, two CSL South championships and a sectional crown. The 5-10 guard averaged nearly 25 points and 12 rebounds per game to go along with 4.7 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.2 blocks (she had 46 double-doubles in her final 62 games).
Loyd is the only player in Illinois girls basketball history to place among the top 12 for career points (3,077, seventh) and rebounds (1,478, 12th).
DeLara said Loyd really cared about her Niles West teammates, and knew she and the team couldn’t win without everyone helping to carry the load.
“Not only did she care about us, but she knew when to get in our faces,” DeLara said. “She knew just one single player couldn’t make things happen. She always pushed us to be better than we were.”
Loyd hasn’t forgotten her alma mater, visiting Niles West frequently since graduating in 2012.
“She stops back at school year-round,” Konsewicz said. “She’ll work out here in the summer time.”
Although she wasn’t able to pay a visit this spring due to getting drafted and turning pro, Konsewicz pointed out that Loyd has been at Niles West after spring semester classes at Notre Dame had concluded.
“Three days after losing the national championship last year she stopped by school,” Konsewicz said.
But that’s just Jewell Loyd, he said.
Konsewicz took his four daughters to a Notre Dame home game in early January and spent time with Loyd afterward.
“She remembered every one of my daughters’ names,” Konsewicz said. “Jackie idolizes her, and she wants to go play basketball on a scholarship at Notre Dame just like Jewell. She doesn’t forget the little people; that’s what makes her special.”
Loyd’s influence on young girls’ lives while at Notre Dame was such that Konsewicz recalled seeking girls wearing Notre Dame T-shirts and jerseys, waiting after the game for Loyd to sign autographs and pose with them for pictures.
“You could see the excitement in the kids’ eyes,” he said. “They waited in line and she didn’t leave until every one of those kids in line got a picture with her or an autograph.”
These days, Loyd is getting acclimated to being in a new city and fitting in with her new team.
“It’s been a great journey,” she said. “I’ve been walking around the city with my brother Jarryd (who played basketball professionally overseas and at Valparaiso University) and getting a good vibe from the city and getting support,” she said. “It’s been pretty awesome just walking around the city and feeling the love and just embracing it.”
The Storm and Tulsa, both members of the WNBA’s West Conference, finished with the worst records in the league last season (12-22).
“We’re rebuilding a new team and it’s a new process together,” Loyd said. “I’ll be putting in a lot of hard work and determination.”
“I think she’s going to do obviously more than compete,” Konsewicz said. “She doesn’t expect to be handed a starting job, and she knows she’s not going to be given anything. She’ll have a huge impact on the professional game. She’s a special person, a special basketball player and a special kid.”