STORRS -- It's difficult to decide whether the sneakers in her closet are more numerous than the expectations on the shoulders of UConn sophomore guard Bria Hartley. But one thing is certain, she collects shoes obsessively.
"Oh man, I'm not exactly sure how may pair I have," Hartley said this past summer. "I have a lot. I can't stop buying sneakers. It's really hard to put a number, but it's in the hundreds. I don't even count them anymore."
As time goes on, UConn hopes she'll collect numerous accolades that in turn will give her the confidence to become the leader it needs her to be.
Perhaps that will happen as soon as this season, now that Maya Moore is gone and since junior guard Caroline Doty continues to struggle with injuries.
Whether Hartley is emotionally ready for this seems inconsequential. She'll need to figure out her place as she goes.
"It's not unfair to think a [sophomore] player should be a leader," former Husky Sue Bird said. "As a point guard -- I am sure she will play the point a lot this season -- that's just the nature of the position.
"It is what it is, whether you are quiet or outspoken. You need to lead because you are the one calling the game. You need to be an extension of the coach, and because of that Bria will likely need to be more of a leader.
"She's young, but she's played in a lot of big games and big moments. But my experience tells me it will be more of a natural progression for her. I had to come out of my shell; the coaches knew it was there, and so did I, but they had to help bring it out of me. They eventually helped me find it."
Hartley, 5 feet 10, had a productive freshman season with the Huskies. And she did not wait long to make an impact, scoring eight points in the final 3:56 to lead UConn to a 65-64 win over Baylor in just the second game of her career.
Hartley started 34 of 38 games, averaging 12.4 points and 2.9 assists. She scored 21 against Florida State, 24 against Louisville and 29 against the Notre Dame in the second of four meetings with the Irish.
Six times she was Big East freshman of the week. And she followed that with the Big East freshman of the year selection and a Big East All-Tournament Team nomination.
"I think I'm always hungry for more," Hartley said. "No matter what, you can always do better. As long as you keep working to get better you can turn out to be great."
A good portion of Hartley's maturation has taken place the past two summers with USA Basketball. She's been a stalwart on FIBA championship teams coached by Hartford's Jen Rizzotti, the former UConn All-American point guard.
UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were on this summer's U19 champions, along with 2012 UConn commits, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.
"I would hope UConn likes the fact I am coaching their kids and that they understand that I can help get them ready better than any of their high school or AAU coaches can for what's coming in college," Rizzotti said. "They are learning about each other's work ethic and commitment, not to mention things like where they like the ball and building chemistry. The familiarity they are building together now most certainly will help them when they get to UConn. It helps players become much more confident in themselves and each other."
Hartley knows all about pressure. She began playing varsity with North Babylon High (N.Y.) in eighth grade where she began building the All-American resume that led her to UConn.
But playing at UConn, and leading one of Geno Auriemma's teams, means learning to control a more complex universe.
"Bria wants to be a leader," assistant coach Shea Ralph said. "It's a process for her; she still is just a sophomore. She still is going through the learning curve stuff and will continue to do so for months to come. But she wants to be a leader and that is most of what the battle is about.
"She wants to do the things that will help us win championships. I tell her that the important thing is not to make same mistakes, make new ones.
"The biggest thing about her now is that her confidence is sky high. If you are not a confident player, you can't play here."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun