Ann Strother wants to be a nurse. In fact, she is training to be one right now, just a few months away from the end of an accelerated program in Colorado that will eventually lead to what she hopes will be her life’s work in pediatric oncology.
She is no longer a professional basketball player. Those days ended three years ago when she scored her final WNBA point in Atlanta.
Strother said Sunday she had a chance to play in Puerto Rico this year, but passed on the chance so she could complete school in a more timely fashion
“I didn’t want to delay real life any longer,” said Strother, the former UConn standout, on Sunday.
But there are some things in life that a basketball player simply can not ignore.
If there is a women’s basketball tournament currently being played on a stage in the world, the chances are great there will be some connection to the UConn program.
It was so in London this summer where six Huskies and coach Geno Auriemma won the Olympic gold medal. It was so Sunday night when three UConn freshmen played for the FIBA Americas World Championship in Puerto Rico.
And it will that way this week in Greece when Hartley, Notre Dame’s senior Skylar Diggins and Stanford’s junior Chiney Ogwumike represent the USA in the FIBA 3×3 World Championship in Athens.
“This is a pretty cool opportunity,” Hartley said Sunday from the team’s training facility in Colorado Springs. “I am very excited to be spending the last week of my summer in Greece, a place I’ve never been before. I’ll be introduced to the culture and be doing something I love. And I will only have to miss one day of class.”
Just a few days ago, Hartley was introduced to the fourth member of the team – Strother.
Strother was invited to join the team when Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas, who had qualified on a team with Hartley, Diggins and Ogwumike, had to back out.
“I’m excited,” said Strother. “I’m a little caught off guard by it, but thrilled to be a part of it. I will enter it with the same mindset I’ve always had; you want to go there to win.”
Strother helped UConn to two national titles while scoring 1,699 career points from 2002-06. She was selected 15th overall in the 2006 WNBA Draft by the Houston Comets before being traded to the Phoenix. Strother played three seasons in the WNBA with the Mercury, Indiana Fever and Atlanta Dream and played professionally in Russia and Spain.
She also was director of basketball operations for Colorado women’s team in 2007-08 before returning to Castle Rock, Colo., where she currently attends nursing school.
“That [nursing] is where my heart is,” Stother said.
Strother participated in the preliminaries of the 3×3 tourney on July 8 in Colorado Springs, on a whim inspired largely by Abby Waner, the former Duke star who is now an assistant at Denver University.
“I had a good first two games, then got a little tired,” said Strother. “But it felt so good to be able to come back and play, especially against players still active. For the first time, in a long time, I had fun playing the game.”
Ironically, Waner could not participate in the qualifier because of a recruiting trip. So Strother pursued it with other friends and now is on her way to Greece.
“They [USA Basketball] called me a few days ago, said someone [Thomas] had to back out and would you like to play for us? So, here I am,” Strother said. “I feel really good. It takes me a little longer to warm up, however. But other than that, I feel pretty good.”
The tournament features 24 men’s teams and 24 women’s national teams divided into four preliminary round groups of six teams each. The USA women open Aug. 23 and play Germany and Angola, then will take on Sri Lanka and Argentina on Aug. 24, and will conclude preliminary play versus Netherlands on Aug. 25.
The top four finishing teams from each group advance to the Eight Finals to be played on Aug. 25, with winners advancing to the quarterfinals that will also be played Aug. 24. The semifinals, and the bronze and gold medal games, will be played Aug. 26.
Games are last 10 minutes or end when one team scores 21 and wins by two. There is a 12-second shot clock and the ball needs to be brought outside the three-point line after its rebounded.
“That’s where you learn how to play, absolutely,” said Hartley. “And when you think about it, when you look how our practices [at UConn], much of what we do when we break down our offense is done in a 3-on-3 setting.”
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