“Who would have known this small town would have such an impact on me and my teammates,” said Stewart on Thursday morning. “Summerside is a place I will always be able to come back to, even if it is not basketball related, and everyone will welcome me like I was their own kid, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandson.
“I will definitely miss this great place that I never heard of until I came here. Now, if anyone was to ask me where was the best professional place you have played, this would be No. 1 hands down.”
Stewart, who has been the face of the National Basketball League of Canada franchise for its first two years of existence, joined the Storm in the fall of 2011. He will play his final game in a Storm uniform on ‘Al Stewart Day’ on Sunday, when the Halifax Rainmen visit Eastlink Arena for a 2 p.m. start.
“Them (Storm organization) making it ‘Al Stewart Day’ is tremendous,” added Stewart, 29. “That day will be one of the most important days of my life.”
Stewart was faced with the prospect of remaining with the Storm for the rest of the season, or returning to his hometown of Chicago, Ill., for a full-time teaching position with pre-kindergarten students aged 3-to-4-year-olds. If he remained with the Storm, he would have lost the teaching position.
Stewart’s three-year-old daughter, Aniyah, also lives in Chicago with her mother.
“It’s very emotional right now,” said Stewart. “To see all the fans messaging, embracing me, wishing me good luck on my journey, it’s all been positive things said.
“There has not been a selfish person who has said you are leaving the team early. It has been nothing but positive energy going around, with everyone wishing me the best of luck with my decision going back home and to my daughter as well. That is making me a little emotional.”
Storm fans can also check out Stewart and his teammates on Friday night, when the Oshawa Power bring an 18-18 (won-lost) record into Summerside for a 7 p.m. start. The Storm (22-14) need just one win, or Halifax loss, to clinch the Atlantic Division and the No. 2 seed in the upcoming playoffs.
“Who would have known this small town would have such an impact on me and my teammates. Summerside is a place I will always be able to come back to, even if it is not basketball related, and everyone will welcome me like I was their own kid, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandson. I will definitely miss this great place that I never heard of until I came here. Now, if anyone was to ask me where was the best professional place you have played, this would be No. 1 hands down.” - Summerside Storm point guard Al Stewart
“These next couple of games, there is going to be a lot of energy coming from the crowd and a lot of focus on me to play well,” said Stewart. “Also, I’m going to put a lot of pressure on myself to play well and end on a good note.”
Storm co-owner Duncan Shaw said one of Stewart’s many attributes was making people around him better.
“Al was the defensive player of the year last year in the NBL (of Canada),” continued Shaw. “He’s a strong defender and a pass-first point guard. . .
“He’s one of the most intelligent basketball players I’ve ever seen.”
Not officially retiring
Stewart, though, would not go as far as saying his pro career is finished for good.
“I can’t say I’m retiring now,” said Stewart. “Even though this job at home is something for the future, I love basketball and I still have a lot of gas left in my tank.
“I can say I’m done for this season, but who knows what may happen (in the future).”
One thing that is in Stewart’s future is to follow the remainder of the Storm season closely.
“I will watch every game, I will read every blog and I will be in tune like I am still here,” said Stewart. “I still want my team to do good. The spirit will be there.
“I will contact every one and encourage and wish them luck. I will be watching every minute of the play-by-play.”
Al Stewart’s Summerside Storm franchise records:
Points scored: 751.
Free throws made: 203.