Jewell Loyd awed AAU coaches, teammates with her competitiveness

Lincolnwood native Jewell Loyd was quite busy after she decided to leave Notre Dame a year early and declare for the 2015 WNBA Draft.

She traveled to Los Angeles for the Wooden Award presentation and then to Connecticut for the draft — where the Seattle Storm picked her first overall. Then it was off to Seattle.

While traveling around the country in such a short amount of time can be stressful, Loyd remained upbeat about basketball.

“This is my career,” Loyd said. “This is something that I’m passionate about and love. I don’t see it as work. I don’t see it as a job.”

That’s been Loyd’s basketball life, a mixture of competition and fun. Niles West girls basketball coach Tony Konsewicz recalled Loyd happily chucking half-court shots during water breaks, and then returning to her usual hard-nosed style as soon as the whistle blew.

Evanston coach Elliot Whitefield, who worked with Loyd on the AAU circuit, said that he never saw anyone work harder.

Areas she was lacking in would turn into strengths. There was a time when she was mainly a drive and post threat. Then, she hit the gym to work on 3-pointers. She ended her time at Notre Dame with a healthy 36.7 percent career shooting clip from behind the arc.

Northwestern star Maggie Lyon, who played AAU basketball with Loyd and took part in many New Trier-Niles West battles as a member of the Trevians, remembered when she played on Loyd’s team in a 5-on-5 scrimmage at AAU practice and lost. Loyd was furious.

“She has this unbelievable skill and talent that no one else has, but what just sent her over the edge was just her will to compete and her competitive edge,” Lyon said.

Whitefield recalled an AAU game in which the opposition resorted to hitting Loyd every time she went to the basket. She got up and hit her free throws every time.

“She’s so competitive, but it’s a controlled competitive fire that she has,” Whitefield said. “You couldn’t get in her head. That was probably the most frustrating thing as a coach.”

Whitefield knew Loyd was going to be trouble long before she donned a Wolves uniform.

“I’m thinking she’s going to give us headaches for four years,” Whitefield said. “Just her athleticism, how much passion she had to play the game even at an early age, you knew right from the get-go that she was coming up and she was going to do special things.”

It didn’t take long for the headaches to begin.

As a sophomore, Loyd, despite being double-teamed all night, led Niles West to a 41-40 victory over Evanston in the Class 4A Evanston Regional championship game.

“A little bit like the Jordan Rules, we had the Jewell Rules,” Whitefield said. “Our first rule is whenever Jewell crossed half-court, two people were on her. Whenever she touched the ball above the three, we had two people run at her.”

Those were golden days in Chicagoland girls basketball — and it wasn’t just Loyd.

New Trier had Lyon, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Bolingbrook had Morgan Tuck, whose Huskies bested Loyd’s Fighting Irish for the 2015 NCAA Tournament title, and Ariel Massengale of Tennessee fame.

In addition, Glenbrook South, which ended Loyd’s high school career in the Class 4A New Trier Sectional semifinals, boasted unusual height.

“The years that she played here, especially her sophomore, junior and senior year, our conference was arguably the best in the state,” Konsewicz said. “Jewell was definitely just a little better.”

It was a perennial dogfight. After Niles West won the regional title over Evanston by a point in 2010, it did the same against New Trier in 2011, winning 46-45.

“They were great games, always,” Lyon said. “It was always such a crazy thing to play Niles West. They had some good other players, but it was just a lot of Jewell.”

Lyon said she remembered the packed houses that followed — and the heckling. Konsewicz remembered alumni and students packing Loyola University for a supersectional contest. A local McDonald’s even held a meet-and-greet event with Loyd.

“It was crazy,” Konsewicz said. “It was our version of traveling with the Beatles.”

“We pretty much changed the outlook of women’s basketball,” Loyd said. “We brought along a lot of fans. We changed the community.”

Loyd didn’t shy away from that attention. Her dancing prior to being introduced at the 2015 NCAA Tournament final hardly came as a surprise.

“She was such a personality at the school,” Konsewicz said.

As a senior, when she saw freshmen from her junior high school, she would give them a high-five. She would talk with anybody.

Loyd seemingly cared about everyone. Konsewicz remembered bringing his daughters to see Loyd play at Notre Dame. After the game, the superstar went up to them, remembering all of their names and leaving the youngest one “star-struck,” Konsewicz said.

Konsewicz will no longer be able to drive to Notre Dame to see Loyd play, but he’s not worried about her being far from home.

“If she ever does get homesick, she will still turn to what makes her happiest and that would be basketball,” Konsewicz said.

Loyd isn’t gone forever. She’s scheduled to be back Sept. 6, when the Storm visit the Chicago Sky.

You can bet she’s excited.

“Chicago is home,” Loyd said. “Lincolnwood is my home. Lincolnwood raised me. That’s where everything started.”