WASHINGTON – Eleven games into her WNBA career, Mystics rookie guard Bria Hartley is providing the kind of change that everyone believes in.
Already, Hartley has made SportsCenter’s Top 10 following a wicked behind the back crossover and drive to the basket move against the Indiana Fever, earned her way into the Mystics starting lineup and gained the respect of several prominent veterans, who believe she will be a special player by the time her career is finished.
“For the first week that she was here, I was like wow,” Mystic guard Kara Lawson said. “She has a chance to be an elite guard in this league very quickly. I don’t want to put a year on it because that’s added pressure. She’s a complete player and she’s only going to get better from here. She can do everything.”
Added Phoenix Mercury guard and former UConn standout Diana Taurasi, who told the Hartford Courant recently: “Once Bria figures it out, once she starts knocking down shots, she has the kind of skill package that no one else does and there is no reason why she shouldn't have a long career.”
Hartley has thrilled home crowds at the Verizon Center so far this season.
She led the Mystics with 13 points in a tough 75-67 setback to the Atlanta Dream Sunday afternoon. It was the first time in her fledgling pro career that Hartley has reached double figures in consecutive games.
She also tallied 13 points in a win over the Chicago Sky last Friday night. In her last two games, Hartley has been efficient as she’s shooting 11-for-21 from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point distance.
Hartley, who is fifth among rookies in scoring with a 9.4 point per game average, will take her show on the road where Washington will play nine of its next 12 games beginning with a high noon showdown Wednesday in Atlanta.
With the Mystics sitting at 5-6 overall in a congested Eastern conference, this upcoming stretch of games will be critical for a young team featuring seven players in either their first or second years in the league.
However, with Hartley leading the way and gaining confidence each time she takes the floor, the Mystics will be fine.
Hartley plays with a maturity and ferocity rarely seen in 21-year olds at this level. Of course, playing at UConn prepared Hartley for playing professionally as she dealt with Beyonce-like treatment and performed in sold out arenas on a regular basis, including helping the Huskies participate in four consecutive Final Fours.
Hartley brought impressive credentials to the nation’s capital. In helping UConn to an amazing 144-11 record during her collegiate career, Hartley finished as the third player in UConn history to reach at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 200 steals.
“She’s improving each day and in practice,” Mystics guard Ivory Latta said. “She’s doing a great job out there. Coach (Mike Thibault) is giving her the time to go out there and learn and she’s doing a great job for sure. She’s poised during practice and goes at a pace that we need and she’s maturing already and that’s a great thing.”
Hartley’s breakout performance was a career high 20-point outing during a thrilling triple overtime victory over the Los Angeles Sparks on June 1.
A magician with the ball in her hands, Hartley is faster than speeding traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.
When she’s on, her short pull-up jumper from the elbow is a thing of beauty. More impressive is that Hartley isn’t afraid to attack the rim or challenge bigger players.
“I swear every game I am getting bumped around,” Hartley said. “That’s fine though as I try to compensate for that with my quickness and hold my ground a little bit.”
A perfect example occurred during the Mystics’ fourth quarter surge against the Sky.
Hartley went strong to the basket on a fastbreak and despite getting whacked hard across her beautiful face, scored and made the ensuing foul shot.
While her scoring has increased, Hartley’s defense is also beginning to get noticed in a good way as well. There was a time when Hartley had defensive difficulties, well according to at least one well known expert in the women’s basketball world.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Hartley said. “When I was a freshman at UConn, coach (Geno Auriemma) would tell me that I couldn’t guard anyone so each year I just worked at getting better at something. Then by my senior year, I was able to guard the other team’s best player and make it difficult for them.”
Hartley has received an advanced education lately in guarding the opposing team’s best players.
During a recent stretch in consecutive games, Hartley guarded Taurasi, New York’s Cappie Poindexter and Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince. She hasn’t shut them down, but she hasn’t backed down and made them earn everything.
“There’s times I’ve done well and times I haven’t done so well but you have to learn how to play against those players,” Hartley said. “They’re great and they’re going to hit tough shots but I am going to compete against them and make it tough for them. Having the help of your teammates is great.
"They help me a lot. Just watching Ivory and seeing the impact she has on the floor and what she does is inspiring to me. Kara is one of the smartest players on the floor and she talks me through stuff and instills confidence in me as well.”
With plenty of room to improve, Hartley is in the perfect situation to continue making a positive impact for Mystics.
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