Coming off an All-America sophomore year, Bria Hartley was primed to take another step forward last season.
“Coming into training camp last September, I'd never seen anyone more ready than she looked,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
And playing for USA Basketball's 3-on-3 team in Greece in 2012 should have been an important step in Hartley's development.
It was, except for that one step she took on an unsteady floor that caused a sprained left 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 was only part of the problem; players experience all types of injuries that medicine and therapies effectively treat. But Hartley kept her condition quiet when she returned until she could no longer play without pain.
“Her ankle was bad,” Auriemma said. “But what it 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 season and struggled with her shooting throughout, making just 39.1 percent of her shots after averaging 46.7 her first two seasons. She was just 29.7 percent from three.
“In spite of that, you would be surprised 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 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 she saw and felt and put them to great use,” Auriemma said.
Hartley was healthy enough to play for the U.S. World University Games team this summer. But she was held out of the October training camp 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.”
And now she is intent on making her final season a great one. Hartley, with 1,347 career points, already is likely 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 want this to be an elite year.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun