Bria Hartley on the Wubble, her New York DNA and France

Bria Hartley is one of the top candidates for the 6th woman of the year title this seaso, thanks to her great start (16.1 pts/game) with her new team, the Phoenix Mercury. She is also the only member of the French national team to play in the WNBA this season, since her partner with “Les Bleues” Marine Johannès opted to stay in France. We had the opportunity to chat with the heroes of Eurobasket 2019.

Bria talked about this unique experience in the Wubble, her first season with Phoenix, a few key moments of her career, and how she sees the future with France.

Swish Swish is a french speaking media but we like to share some of our interviews in English. They can be found here.

From the outside, this season is incredibly fun to watch. How are things going for you and the Mercury in Florida ? How do you feel so far ?

I feel pretty good. We started kinda slow with two losses but I think we’re finding our rythm a little. Even if we lost last night against Chicago. We’re starting to grow a little bit together, relying more on each other. We have like 7 new players ! I’m really excited about this team and about what we can do this season.

Your son  is with you in Florida. How do you manage to have your most productive season so far on the court while having to take care of a 3 year old in the same time ?

Yeah, it’s tough but I’m figuring it out. I’m taking it day by day. During my time with him, I try to focus on him. I try to do the same thing when I’m on the court. It is definately tough to balance. At first, my boyfriend was here, helping me with him, and my good friend, Dearica Hamby from the Las Vegas Aces, and her mom, are helping me now. When I go to practice, I just got to jump him off over there. Not everything is in the same location so that’s easier for me to have some help, for practices and stuff like that. I feel like he enjoys this, he’s pretty content, he connects with the team.

And he’s taking pictures for the team too !

Yeah (laugh) ! He comes to practices sometimes. He enjoys watching me play and he likes being around the girls. It’s fun. With Phoenix, there really is a family environment. Coach Brondello has her kids there and Skylar has her son too and it’s really cool.

We had Candace Parker a few weeks ago and we talked about how she wouldn’t have been the person and the player she is today if her daughter wasn’t born at this early stage of her career. You had Bryson after two and a half seasons in the league. Can you relate to that ?

I can agree to that, for sure. For me it was definately a motivating factor when I was coming back. There is this negative connotation when you get pregnant. People think that if you have a kid you won’t come back the same player, it added a chip on my shoulder. I just kinda wanted ot be a good example for my son, make sure I’m playing as hard as I can, and make sure I’m battling through any kind of adversity when I’m on the court or off the court. I want to show him what it is to go out there and be a model.

You went from a team that was clearly in rebuilding mode to one of the most ambitious team in the league. We’re still early in the season but how do you feel about your choice and do you think you can win the title with Phoenix ?

I realize I’m getting older, it’s my seventh season, but I only played in 4 playoffs games. So I definately wanted to go on a team that could really compete for a championship. I think we are really good. I think we got a lot of really good pieces, like lottery talent pieces. We’re coming together, we keep building, we keep growing. We have to come together at the right time during the playoffs. We can definately be a team that can contend. We have so many good players that are tough to stop ! If we set fire at the right time, we can compete for a championship.

Before joining the Mercury, you played in New York for three seasons. How special was that for you since you grew up near NYC ?

It was special. I grew up in New York, watching the Liberty play games and going to some of them. It was cool just being able to be home, in front of my friends, my family. Play in the Madison Square Garden my first year and seeing a billboard with my picture outside the MSG, that was cool and kind of a dream. I really enjoyed it. I liked my time there and I’m happy I got the opportunity to do that.

People often say that athletes from New York are made from a different mold, with a unique mentality, do you agree with that and do you think you have this basketball DNA ?

Yes, I think so. I think you grow up in New York – and I’m from Long Island, the suburb – but going out to the city, playing in the parks… There’s a bunch of really good basketball players who are ready to challenge you on their playground. I think that it’s when I started to play in New York City, that I started to grow as a player. I worked on my mentality, because I always played against a really good competition.

Did you have favorite players or basketball models growing up ?

I really watched Epiphanny Prince, who is 4 of 5 years older than me. When I was in middle school, she was a really, really good high school player. One day she scored like 113 points. She’s a great player. Of course, Sue Bird is from Long Island and I used to watch her when I was in college. These two are the guards I always wanted to watch.

I wanted to talk about your UConn days, because it’s such a fascinating program. Can you tell me when and why you decided to commit to Connecticut at the time ?

I think UConn was just kind of a really good fit for me. I was in a situation where I could play a significant role at a pretty young age, so that was cool. About Coach Auriemma, just meeting him at the recruit was huge. He got a lot out of me. I was definately a little more shy when I was a kid so he got me to speak up a little bit more. I thought that would just helped me grow as a person and as a player. And it did.

Every former Husky seems to have a favorite Geno Auriemma story or memory. Do you have one to share with us ?

I think I was a freshman. Everyone knows he’s tough. Everyone knows he can get on you.  He says a lot ot things to push your buttons. I wasn’t really good, so he started to call me « that guard from New York », « that guard who’s from New York », etc… I kinda got mad and started to play better. He’s really good at knowing what motivates a player to be better and how to motivate them.

You played against Diana Taurasi before, but now you’re on the same team. After a few weeks, how do you feel about playing with one of the GOATs ?

I’m really excited. I have always been a big Diana Taurasi fan. Playing against her was really cool, but now being here, around her, being able to watch how she carries herself as a player, and have her as a mentor to help me, the way she thinks the game, the way she approaches it, it’s definately cool and now I get to experience that everyday and hopefully I can learn a few things from her.

Half of our team at Swish Swish is from Belgium and they want me to tell you they forgave you for your clutch shot against their team last year and are supporting you and the Mercury.

(she laughs) Tell them I say “merci” !

So, you had your first run with the French national team and won a medal. Your selection was a little controversial at the time. How was this whole experience for you ?   

I used to be good for the most part. I knew it was controversial for some people but I think for the most part that didn’t factor into what I was doing ; I was focusing on going out there, playing basketball and representing the French National Team the best way I can. So far, my experience has been great. I also think I kind of won some people over by how I played and how I was able to mesh with the team and I hope that continues to grow from year to year. I hope we can do well in the Olympics next year.

On a cultural level, do you feel closer now to the French culture and to your grandmother’s heritage ?

Yes, I think so, by being around with the girls. I still got to work on speaking French a little better but hopefully my plan is to play in France at some point and itnwill be a lot easier for me to be in the country for a longer time and be able to pick up all the language and the culture. So I just keep working at it, keep doing the best I can to learn french and be confortable at it as well.

So there is a real chance we might see you play in the French League one day ?

There’s definately a chance. I just have to work everything out, see what’s best for me and my career right now, but I have definately been in conversation with French teams and hopefully in the future it can really happen.

You played in Hungary and in Turkey, what did all these experiences abroad bring to you on a personal and professional level ?

Hungary was my first year overseas, and I was worried about being away from my family and being far from America. It was the first time I was spending so much time in Europe. So I wasn’t really being able to dive into the European culture. Then I really enjoyed my experience in Turkey. Playing Euroleague with Fener was really cool, I hope I can still continue tu build my resume over there. In Hungary, I played in Sopron, which is a really small town, there wasn’t really much to do. There was a bowling alley, and a few really good restaurants. I went over there with Kayla McBride that I have known for years, so it was cool to have someone that I knew to experience that. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. I’m going to go back there for my third season. It reminds me of New York City because there are a lot of things to do, a lot of good restaurants, malls, and that is something I love to do when I’m there. That is why I keep coming back.

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Bria Hartley on the Wubble, her New York DNA and France

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