July 20, 2022 

What the addition of Bria Hartley means for the Connecticut Sun

Hartley, an eight-year veteran, brings "professionalism" and "calmness" to Sun squad trying to secure a more favorable playoff matchup

After a loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday dropped the Connecticut Sun into fourth place, Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller decided to make a move.

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The Sun have had a hole at guard since Jasmine Thomas was injured for the season. Meanwhile, a veteran guard with Connecticut ties had just cleared waivers after agreeing to a contract buyout.

UConn alum Bria Hartley drove to Uncasville, Connecticut, around midnight on Tuesday morning to meet with Miller. The two discussed important terminology for about 10 minutes, and then Miller left her to learn as much as the playbook as she possibly could. About 12 hours later, she made her debut in a Connecticut Sun uniform.

Despite having no live action with the Sun system, Miller tapped the veteran as the first sub off the bench. Hartley, along with DiJonai Carrington, checked in with just under three minutes left in the first quarter.

As things stand today, the Sun’s slide to fourth would set them up for a first-round matchup against the Washington Mystics instead of an Atlanta Dream squad they have handled so far this season. Connecticut hopes that Hartley gives the bench the spark it needs to climb back up in the standings for a more favorable matchup.

She didn’t waste any time. Hartley took the ball up the court on her first possession and passed it to Alyssa Thomas to set up a quick hand-off. The action drew Natasha Howard away from the paint to hedge a driving Hartley. Thomas rolled into the gap behind Howard, caught a bounce pass from Hartley, and finished with a floater at the rim before Liberty center Han Xu had time to react.

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In the fourth, Hartley earned her second assist, feeding Carrington for a drive to the basket – a shot that kicked off a 10-point fourth quarter for Carrington, and a 20-5 Sun run that closed the door on the Liberty.

Hartley played 12 minutes in her first game, registering two assists, one rebound, and a steal – picking off an inbounds pass from Sabrina Ionescu early on in the Sun’s big fourth-quarter run that led to Connecticut’s 19-point victory over a Liberty team that has given them fits this season. She attempted just two field goals and missed them both, but ended up with the second most minutes off the bench after Carrington, who had a career night with 18 points in 18 minutes.

“There was just a calmness about me when she was on the floor,” Miller said after the game. “I just knew she was gonna get us into things and make good decisions. She has no idea what we’re doing. That’s remarkable.”

Miller said before the game that Hartley would be essentially playing a pick-up game while the rest of the team played organized basketball. But even in just her first 12 hours, Hartley gave the Sun bench something they’ve been missing for a few years, and desperately have needed since losing their longtime floor general this season: a veteran guard.

“I know it doesn’t say that on the stat sheet but the professionalism, the calmness, just the veteran (in her),” Miller said. “We haven’t had a veteran guard like her off the bench since Layshia (Clarendon) in 2019. So to have an eight-year pro in this league who’s been through the wars and will compete is just comforting. And it’s gonna get better.”

With a contract signed for the rest of the season, Hartley will have 10 games to find her footing before the postseason. Miller said Hartley spent just about 90 minutes with her new teammates ahead of the 11:30 a.m. tilt with the Liberty on Tuesday.

Along with her veteran experience, Hartley gives the Sun another ball handler who can create for others but can also play off the ball. Without a true point guard since Jasmine Thomas’s injury, the Sun have relied on a committee of ball handlers – with Hiedeman, Williams and Alyssa Thomas taking up much of that work.

Miller may be more confident in giving a veteran like Hartley minutes than he has been giving minutes to the younger guards on the Sun bench – rookie Nia Clouden and Jazmine Jones – allowing him to give Hiedeman and Williams more rest down the stretch.

Her ability to handle the ball can also free up more possessions to let Alyssa Thomas off the ball, relieving some of the issues the Sun have seen in their half-court offense when defenders leave Thomas at the perimeter to crowd the paint. Hartley also gives the Sun another legitimate three-point threat, which could help balance their paint-oriented offense.

On the defensive end, Miller said Hartley doesn’t have the lateral quickness she had before her knee injury, but she makes up for it with her understanding of the game. Miller said her size and physicality also give the Sun someone who can go up against bigger point guards in the league, who have given the Sun trouble since Jasmine Thomas was injured.

“I’m excited for what [Bria’s impact] looks like at the end of the year and heading into hopefully the playoffs,” Miller said. “Now, there’s grace, there’s empathy, there’s compassion for her that she’s played very limited games in two years in this league. So there’s some rust. She’s not going to know our playbook, she’s not going to know all our terminology, so we’ve got to be patient. But I’m excited for where she could be in mid-August.”

Hartley has had a difficult last three seasons, playing just 30 games since signing a near-max contract with the Phoenix Mercury in 2020. In her first season with the Mercury, she averaged 14.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.2 steals in 13 appearances primarily off the bench. She scored at least 24 points four times in that short span, and only had three games where she didn’t score in double figures.

She missed much of the 2020 and 2021 seasons after tearing her ACL midway through the Wubble season. Before the 2022 season, she was traded to Indiana in a three-team deal that sent Diamond DeShields to Phoenix.

She played limited minutes over 10 games with the Fever before agreeing to a contract buyout last week. The Sun don’t expect Hartley to play like the star guard Phoenix expected when they signed her in 2020. They’ll look for her to be a stable presence off the bench.

“This is a little bit of a tryout for her future in this league, and I’m excited that we’re ones to provide it,” Miller said. “She gets a tryout for us first and foremost, and our culture and how she fits, but it’s a tryout for her for the whole league.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

Jacqueline LeBlanc is the Connecticut Sun beat reporter for The Next. Prior to The Next, Jacqueline has written for Her Hoop Stats and Sports Illustrated.

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