Former North Babylon star Bria Hartley excels for UConn

North Babylon's Bria Hartley gets under the basket North Babylon's Bria Hartley gets under the basket during the second game in the Maggie Dixon Classic against California. (Dec. 22, 2013) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Jerry Powell didn't want to train girls; he thought he was too aggressive. But when one of his regular clients came in for a session one day and insisted that Powell train his 9-year-old sister, Powell relished the opportunity, saying, "I'm going to wear her out!''

He tried. But the girl showed no signs of tiring, even after Powell put her through every drill he knew, a rigorous program that many older, stronger boys couldn't handle. She left the gym full of energy. This is not normal, Powell thought.

In an era of overnight sensations and instant gratification, Bria Hartley's story is a reminder that besides talent, hard work is the most important ingredient in success. The University of Connecticut basketball star has what her coach at North Babylon High School, Mike Petre, calls "unmatched work ethic'' and "unrelenting will.''

It was not uncommon for Hartley to spend a summer day going from a training session with Powell to a team workout with Petre to an AAU game with Exodus NYC. Every winter, she would return to the North Babylon varsity, which she played on as an eighth-grader, having added a new element to her game. She came back as a sophomore with a lethal step-back move; as a junior, she honed her pull-up jumper; by her senior year, she had deep shooting range.

What has separated the 5-8 guard from her competition is her stamina. Petre and Powell said they've never seen her tired, and both used the term "freak'' to describe her conditioning. "She has first-quarter legs in the fourth quarter,'' Powell said.

The two-time New York State Player of the Year helped North Babylon win the Long Island championship as a freshman and sophomore in 2007 and 2008. As a senior she had 51 points, a record for a Suffolk final, in a loss.

She chose Connecticut because she thought it gave her the best shot at a national championship. Coach Geno Auriemma sealed the deal.

Many of her conversations with college coaches were one-sided, with Hartley giving one-word answers or saying "I don't know'' when asked about her future. "I was young and didn't know what I wanted,'' Hartley said. It was different with Auriemma, who was able to ask questions in a way that elicited full, thoughtful responses.

Hartley and Auriemma often clashed during her freshman season. "She's very, very, very stubborn,'' Auriemma said. "A lot of good players have that in them. They think they know everything.''

Forced into the starting lineup because of an injury, Hartley was the Big East Rookie of the Year and an All-American as a sophomore. UConn lost in the Final Four both years before capturing the national championship last season.

On Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Hartley scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in UConn's 80-47 win over California in the Maggie Dixon Classic. She is the second-leading scorer for the Huskies (12-0), averaging 14.6 points. Breanna Stewart (19.3) had 29 Sunday.

As one of two seniors on the team, Hartley will be counted on to lead Connecticut to its eighth NCAA title in the past 15 seasons. Anything less is considered a disappointment at UConn, but those expectations are part of the reason Hartley chose the school.

She will never get tired of that.

Handford wins it for Storm. In the first game, St. John's beat Texas A & M, 72-70. Aliyyah Handford had 27 points for the Red Storm (6-4), including the winning layup with two seconds left. North Babylon's Eugeneia McPherson scored 14 despite taking only six shots.

You also may be interested in: