Coming off an All-American sophomore season, Bria Hartley was primed to take another step forward last season.
“Coming training camp last September, I’d never seen anyone more ready than see looked,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
And frankly, playing for USA Basketball’s 3-on-3 team in Greece during the summer of 2012 should have been an important step in her continued development.
And it was, except for that one step she took on an unsteady floor that sprained her ankle and set her on an unfamiliar course.
“Sometimes, you are better off having a season-ending injury,” Auriemma said. “Sometimes having an injury that never goes away is worse, although you hate to think in those terms. Injuries like the one Bria had last way too long and sometimes they get into your mind.”
The ankle wasn’t really the problem; players experience all types of injuries that modern medicine and therapies effectively treat. The problem was that Hartley decided to keep her condition quiet when she returned until she could no longer play without pain.
And the time she lost recovering was time she did not recover from until NCAA Tournament time.
“Her ankle was bad,” Auriemma said. “But what [the condition of] her ankle did to her mind was worse. But that’s a learning experience, too. It was a jolt to her after she had worked so hard in the offseason. It was a real letdown for her. She didn’t handle it well. And a lot of it was due to her frustration.”
Hartley missed the first two games of the regular season and struggled with her shooting touch throughout the year, making just 39.1 percent of her shots after averaging 46.7 in her first two seasons. She was just 29.7 percent from three.
“In spite of that, you would be surprised about how much you can learn when you aren’t playing well,” Auriemma said. “You learn to contribute in other ways. As much as she didn’t have the type of year statistically as she may have expected, I bet she learned more about what’s important to playing for a team.”
Hartley, coming off the bench by this time, scored in double-figures in each of UConn’s final three NCAA Tournament games, including a 15-point, four-assist effort in the semifinals against Notre Dame. She scored 13 points in the title game two nights later against Louisville.
Obviously, she saved the best for last: She was selected to the All-NCAA Tournament team.
“She took all of things that see saw and felt and put them to great use,” Auriemma said.
Hartley was well enough to play for USA’s World University Games team this summer. But she was held back from participating in the October training camp held for the senior national team in Las Vegas.
Hartley, Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were all invited to train with the core of Auriemma’s 2012 Olympic gold medal team.
“I would have loved to have gone, it would have been an exciting experience,” Hartley said. “But at the same time, I do want have a great senior season and I don’t want this injury to bother me again. It was better to rest it. There will be other opportunities for me. There was no need to rest it.”
And now she is intent to make her final season a great one. Hartley, with 1,347 career points, is already guaranteed to have her No. 14 hang on Gampel Pavilion’s Husky of Honor wall.
But she wants to leave a greater legacy as she prepares for the WNBA.
“I would never describe last season as being a wasted one for me,” Hartley said. “Playing for a national championship team is a remarkable experience.
“Honestly, it was my best season in terms of learning and maturing. I’ve never had to face anything like that before; not playing and being so inconsistent when I did. It helped me grow as a person.
“But I will have a chip on my shoulder this season. I am a very competitive person. I am so excited. I was this to be an elite year.”