COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When Jennifer Rizzotti coached the U.S. U18 national team four years ago, she got to work with a handful of future All-Americans, including a couple Connecticut-bound superstars, Maya Moore and Tina Charles. What she didn't get to work with was a future Husky point guard.
But that changed this summer when Rizzotti accepted the head coaching position of 2010's version of the U18 team, featuring none other than Bria Hartley, a 5-foot-10 point guard out of North Babylon High School in New York who will fly directly from Colorado Springs to Storrs, Conn., to play for Geno Auriemma.
When he found out his old point guard was going to be working with his new point guard, Auriemma told Rizzotti one thing: She was going to love Hartley. As it often goes, Auriemma was right.
Rizzotti is beloved in the UConn basketball community for a lot of "firsts." In the mid-'90s, Rizzotti helped lead the Huskies to their first NCAA title (1995) and first undefeated season (35-0), and later became part of the first class inducted into UConn's "Huskies of Honor." She was tough-nosed, feisty and intensely competitive.
That's the perfect way to describe Hartley, too.
Thursday night against the Brazilian national team, Hartley's tenacity came out full force from the tip, as she scored 12 of her 14 points in the first quarter to give the U.S. a comfortable 29-11 lead. After that she was content to sit back and defer to other players as the Americans rolled again, beating up on Brazil 89-46 in their second game at the FIBA Americas Championship at the Olympic Training Center. After she was done setting the tone, Hartley acted as floor general, making sure that Chiney Ogwumike (15 points, seven rebounds), Alexis Jones (12 points) and Kayla McBride (10 points) got the touches they needed.
Hartley's offensive onslaught was a reversal from Wednesday's game, when she happily dished out six assists instead of relentlessly attacking the basket. And that, says Rizzotti, is exactly why Hartley will be successful at the next level.
"Bria knows what needs to be done," Rizzotti said. "She knows when she needs to be a scoring point guard and she knows when she needs to be a distributing point guard, and that's what she's going to need to know at UConn.
"But you can see, when she carries this team on her back, we're unstoppable."
For all her upside, though, sometimes Hartley's competitiveness can get the best of her, too. Rizzotti says that sometimes Hartley gets so caught up in wanting to win that she'll get easily frustrated over a mistake, and commit a dumb foul at the other end. It's something Rizzotti recognizes because she was guilty of it herself.
"The first thing that struck me was how competitive she is," Rizzotti said. "I told her, 'This is going to be your greatest strength and your greatest weakness,' because sometimes she wants to do it all herself."
Hartley describes playing for Rizzotti as "an honor" because she gets to pick the brain of one of the greatest guards in UConn history. It's a list Hartley hopes to be on one day, too.
"She was so good," Hartley said. "She's taught me a lot of about you have to be a leader, have to see the play before it happens and how you have to dictate the game."
Hartley says that after three weeks under Rizzotti's tutelage, all aspects of her game have improved. Spectators would agree.
Stefanie Dolson, the 6-foot-5 center from the U.S. who also is headed to UConn next season, says Hartley is easily one of, if not the best, point guard she has ever played with.
"She knows exactly where to throw the ball," Dolson said. "Every time I was posting up, she knew right where I wanted it, and can put it right there. She sees the floor so well and she's so intense."
Hartley looks more polished in the open court, and runs the offense so smoothly that you never would think she gets rattled. Even when she was caught in a blistering Brazilian trap Thursday night, Hartley remained calm and managed to fight her way out. And she is dictating the game, just like Rizzotti instructed.
In one of the U.S. team's offensive sets, a high post waits to set a pick on the point guard's defender. Hartley, sensing the defense was cheating, opted to not use the screen, instead slipping back to the opposite side for a wide-open lane and a pull-up jumper. It was a moved later mimicked by fellow U.S. guards Cassie Peoples and Jones. The result? Nothing but net for all three.
Her shot looks better, too, something Hartley credits to individual coach Jerry Powell, Hartley's trainer since the fourth grade.
"I work out with him two times a day, including my lunch period," Hartley said. "I just get up lots of shots, and do lots of ballhandling. This summer, I've done it a lot more than ever."
But Hartley still has room to improve. There is a good chance that when she suits up for Connecticut this winter she'll play a lot of minutes right away, something Rizzotti is familiar with.
"To be a point guard at a high level you have to be very mentally tough and she is," Rizzotti said. "I've been a freshman point guard at UConn, I know how hard it is. But she's gonna be great."
Given her history, Rizzotti would know.
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Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at email@example.com.