UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- It was over before it started. The Seattle Storm tapped University of Connecticut point guard Bria Hartley with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft.
"I think it's awesome," said Hartley in response to her selection, even though she allowed that Seattle was "pretty far west" for a kid who had grown up in Long Island, N.Y., and spent the last four years in Storrs, Conn., roughly three hours to the north. "The fact that I'm able to go play with Sue Bird is amazing. I have looked up to her and just her work ethic and the way she played in college and now in the WNBA. I am just really excited to play with her and I hope we have really good chemistry."
Hartley had previously missed out on a chance to play with Bird at the U.S. Senior Women's National Training Camp in Las Vegas last fall. Hartley had been one of a handful of collegians selected to attend the camp, but was forced to cancel due to an ankle injury. Hartley said she'd met Bird at Connecticut where the latter was rehabbing from several injuries that had kept her out of action last season. "I got to shoot with her, but to play with her? ... That's a whole other thing."
Hartley said she hoped Bird, who is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest point guards, would become a mentor to her in Seattle. Alas, it was not to be.
Hartley's association with the Storm lasted a little less than an hour. Even as she was being interviewed about her selection in the first round of this year's WNBA draft, rumors were circulating about a possible trade in the works. Sure enough, early in the second round, Renee Brown, the league's chief of basketball operations and player relations, interrupted the proceedings to announce that Hartley had been traded to the Washington Mystics in a deal that also sent second-year forward Tianna Hawkins to D.C. In return, the Storm acquired Crystal Langhorne from the Mystics.
The trade is a real shot in the arm for Seattle, which had a dire need in the post with three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson out of action for the second consecutive season. Jackson sat out the 2013 season following hamstring surgery, and will be out again this year after surgery to repair a torn meniscus and injured Achilles tendon, after which she plans to train with the Australian national team for the upcoming World Championships.
That left Camille Little, an undersized post at 6-2, to anchor the Seattle frontcourt, together with a constellation of role players whose professional experience has for the most part come in the form of limited minutes off the bench. Storm head coach and general manager Brian Agler has taken a number of steps in an effort to address the situation, most recently signing former Georgia Bulldog Angel Robinson, a 6-5 center, who has performed well in the Spanish league where she averaged 12.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but has never made a regular-season WNBA roster.
Robinson was drafted at No. 20 overall by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2010, but hampered by injuries, failed to stick to the roster. The following season she played two exhibition games with the Mystics, but again failed to make it past training camp.
Seattle also has Middle Tennessee product Alysha Clark, entering her third year in the pros but even more undersized than Little at just 5-10; Charde Houston, a 6-year pro who averaged a little less than six points per game off the bench last season, acquired from Phoenix in exchange for the rights to 6-4 Polish center Ewelina Kobryn, who played, relatively unproductively, for Seattle in 2011 and 2012 but was a no show in 2013; 6-2 Tennessee star Shekkinah Stricklen, more a wing than a power forward, who averaged 10 points per game last year for the Storm but was a dismal disappointment in her two playoff starts last year in which she posted a cumulative total of five points; and 6-3 Stanford alum Joslyn Tinkle, a late addition to last season's roster, who appeared in six games for the Storm last season (hitting a career high of three minutes on the floor in one of those games) but has yet to score her first WNBA points.
Obviously, Agler felt more was needed. He gets little by way of size from the 6-2 Langhorne, but he does get a seasoned veteran, a Maryland graduate who was selected sixth overall in the 2008 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. Selected as the 2009 WNBA Most Improved Player, Langhorne continued to steadily up her game until 2011 when she averaged her career-high of 18.2 points, to go with 7.6 rebounds, per game. Since then, however, Langhorne's offensive production has declined significantly: Last year, she averaged 12.9 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game. Still, that's significantly better than any post player Agler currently has on his roster.
In return for Langhorne, Mike Thibault and the Mystics pick up Hawkins, who played 33 games in her rookie season with Seattle, averaging 3.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. The bigger payoff, however, comes in the form of a gamble that by reuniting 6-5 UConn center Stefanie Dolson, whom Washington drafted with this year's No. 6 overall pick, and Hartley the pair will be able to recreate for the Mystics some of the magic that led UConn to back-to-back national championships this year and last.
Dolson, a 6-5 All-American, averaged a near-double-double of 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the Huskies last season, and iced the cake with more than two blocks, three assists and a steal per outing. Hartley averaged 16.2 points on 47-percent field-goal shooting and 36.6-percent marksmanship from beyond the arc, despite often taking on the role of facilitator. Hartley, who clearly demonstrated her ability to get the ball to Dolson where she wanted it -- even against a post-packing Notre Dame team set on clogging the passing lanes in the national championship game -- dealt out more than 4.5 assists per game last year with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2:1.
Thibault is once again investing in the future, building a team around young, but unproven -- at the professional level, talent. It's a strategy he used with considerable success for the Connecticut Sun, turning that team into perennial Eastern Conference championship contenders. It's also a strategem that cost Thibault his job when the Sun's front office proved to be too impatient to wait for all of the young fruit to ripen. Whether the Mystics' management will be willing to give this approach the time it needs to return dividends remains to be seen.
In the meantime, however, Hartley will need to turn not to her fellow Husky Sue Bird, but to a Tennessee product, Kara Lawson, who followed Thibault to Washington in free agency, as her mentor. She could do a lot worse.
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