North Babylon's Bria Hartley ready for next big step: the WNBA draft

Bria Hartley of the Connecticut Huskies drives to Bria Hartley of the Connecticut Huskies drives to the basket against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the NCAA women's championship at Bridgestone Arena on April 8, 2014 in Nashville, Tenn. Photo Credit: Getty

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An incredible whirlwind of a week that has been much more about skill than luck comes to a conclusion for Bria Hartley Monday at Mohegan Sun Casino, site of the 2014 WNBA draft. She can't wait for her latest number to come up.

"The WNBA is my next step,'' Hartley said. "I should be a top-10 pick, but it's out of your control. We'll see what happens. I'm excited about what's ahead."

The one-time North Babylon High School sensation, who capped a marvelous four-year career at Connecticut by helping the Huskies win their second straight NCAA championship on Tuesday night in Nashville, is one of 12 senior prospects invited to the draft, which comes six days after Hartley scored 13 points in her final collegiate game as UConn completed a 40-0 season with a 79-58 win over previously unbeaten Notre Dame.

"I couldn't ask for a better ending," said Hartley, who acknowledged she "got emotional" with her teammates on the court afterward, especially with Connecticut's only other senior, high-scoring forward Stefanie Dolson, who also will be at Mohegan Sun Monday.

So did coach Geno Auriemma, who fought back tears in a post-game interview when he said, "I'm probably one of the luckiest people in the coaching profession because I get to coach players like Stefanie and Bria."

Hartley said she feels the same way. "One thing he always preaches is he wants to send his seniors off on a good note," Hartley said. "He's always saying, 'Do it for the seniors.' He watched us grow up over four years. He had a great impact on both of us. He was excited for us."

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There has been much excitement in Hartley's life recently. She was able to share her collegiate swan song in Nashville with her parents, brother, aunt and five uncles on Tuesday. On Wednesday, after a joyous flight home, there was a mini-parade on campus outside Gampel Pavilion, the home court for the women as well as the men, who celebrated Monday's NCAA championship on Tuesday.

"The men's team was there; the football team, too, and a lot of fans. We got to go on stage with the athletic director and coach Auriemma," Hartley said. "The seniors talked to the crowd. It was real cool that we had the whole UConn community there."

Hartley singled out Auriemma as the most influential member of UConn Nation in her development, on and off the court. "He teaches us to be reliable, to hold yourself accountable for things," she said. "That can apply to basketball and that can apply to life."

Hartley, who is 5-8 with myriad skills, averaged 16.2 points and 4.3 assists in her senior season. She shot 47 percent from the field and 37 percent on three-pointers. A solid defender, she is anxious to continue a Connecticut WNBA lineage that included 12 Huskies in the league last season.

"Basketball has pretty much been in my blood since I was a little girl. That's one reason I came to Connecticut," said Hartley, who will graduate on May 11 as a communications major. "They have some of the best players in the WNBA and I just want to continue on that path."

In Mohegan Sun parlance, that's a pretty safe bet. After all, Hartley has run the table before.

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