WASHINGTON - Taken seventh by the Seattle Storm in the 2014 WNBA draft, North Babylon's Bria Hartley was looking forward to playing in the same backcourt with her mentor, former UConn guard and Syosset native Sue Bird.
But Hartley never got the chance. On April 14, the Storm traded her to the Washington Mystics, and Hartley was instantly reunited with center Stefanie Dolson, a teammate on last season's national champion UConn team who was chosen sixth overall.
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"Playing with [Bird] would have been pretty cool," said Hartley, whose team hosts the Liberty on Friday night at Verizon Center. "But staying here on the East Coast, closer to home, being able to play with Stef and to play for Coach T [Mike Thibault], that's a pretty cool opportunity, too.
"The great thing about being from UConn is there are a bunch of players who played there everywhere you look in the league. We'll always have that connection and take a lot of pride in our Huskies."
Hartley was reminded of that when former teammate Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx dropped 34 points on the Mystics in their season opener on May 16.
Hartley, a 5-8 two-way guard, managed only four points and four assists off the bench in her pro debut. But getting a chance to start in the season's second game, Hartley had 15 points and five assists in 29 minutes to lead Washington to a 79-63 victory at Indiana last Friday.
"That helped build my confidence," Hartley said. "It gave me more of an understanding of what I'm able to do well when I'm out there. My teammates were telling me to keep attacking and try to make plays."
Thibault has no doubt the 15-point game provided a confidence boost but isn't sure it was required.
"Partly because of her UConn experience and partly because of who she is, she came in unafraid of being a professional player," Thibault said. "If she was nervous, she hid it pretty well.
"Our veterans have all embraced her. They think she's going to be a star in this league at some point."
Hartley followed up that performance with four points and two assists in 12 minutes off the bench in a 73-65 loss to Bird and Seattle on Wednesday. Bird had a game-high 16 points.
Hartley didn't get to know Bird until the seven-time WNBA All-Star twice returned to campus for rehab work in 2011 and 2012. At that point, they developed a bond.
"When I was a freshman and sophomore and the coach [Geno Auriemma] was getting on me, she would always kind of help me out," said Hartley, who joined Moore and Diana Taurasi as the only UConn players to score 1,500 points and accumulate 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 200 steals.
Bird knew that Auriemma wasn't picking on Hartley, simply trying to get the most from her talents.
"Obviously he's doing something right because there are so many of us in this league," Bird said. "He prepares you to play your best, no matter if you're at practice, if it's the first game of the season or it's the national championship game. He also coaches you in a way that teaches you how to play with other good players.
"I think all of us from UConn have the willingness to play within a team and make each other better no matter what the stat line is at the end."