Jewell Loyd had no regrets about leaving school early to enter the WNBA. The No. 1 pick in the draft was honored with the league's rookie of the year award Thursday.
"It means a lot, my whole situation," Loyd said in a phone interview. "Going to a whole new environment by myself and coming in and making a difference. I'm very, very happy. I love Seattle right now and wouldn't change anything."
Loyd made news when, a few days after losing in the NCAA championship game, she decided to turn pro and forego her senior year at Notre Dame. She wanted a new challenge. She certainly got it in the WNBA.
"The physicality was something I had to adjust to," Loyd said. "I wanted to leave early to be pushed and challenged."
The 21-year-old guard struggled early on, scoring in double figures just once in her first eight games before finally hitting her stride. That double-digit effort came with her mentor Kobe Bryant in the crowd watching her play in Los Angeles against the Sparks.
"We talk, he helped me and continues to give me confidence," Loyd said of Bryant. "He knows it's a long season and offers encouragement and has been a good mentor for my whole rookie season."
Seattle coach Jenny Boucek was impressed with Loyd's poise this season.
"Jewell's progression was incredible to witness," she said. "Her electric talent continued to evolve and she has just scratched the surface."
Loyd received 21 votes from a national media panel of 39 writers and broadcasters. Kiah Stokes of the New York Liberty finished second with 16 votes and Natalie Achonwa of Indiana got the other two. Joining those three on the all-rookie team were New York's Brittany Boyd, Seattle's Ramu Tokashiki and Los Angeles' Ana Dabovic.
The Storm had a difficult season, finishing with 24 losses, more than Loyd had in her three years in college combined. Seattle's first rookie of the year knew going in that the team was in rebuilding mode.
"The goal was to play strong and hard and get better every day," said Loyd, who turns 22 on Oct. 5. "None of us like losing, and that's definitely going to motivate us all offseason. We're going to come back at a higher level."
Loyd will have more help next year, as Seattle won the WNBA lottery again and will have the No. 1 pick for the second straight season.
Loyd has not only excelled on the court this season but also off it. She recently was selected as the international ambassador for Dyslexic Advantage and is a spoke person for Eye to Eye, another organization to help people with learning disabilities.
"A big part of being a professional athlete is the opportunity you have to use your voice for good, so one of the first things I did was write about my dyslexia and the challenges and opportunities that came from it. I wanted to encourage kids with learning disabilities to be proud and dream big," Loyd said. "To think that through basketball I am able to change lives is really such a dream come true."