No backing down for Hartley

This story appeared in the N.Y. Metro edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.

It's September 2007 and North Babylon (North Babylon, N.Y.) sophomore guard Bria Hartley is at a practice for the Metro Classic, the Long Island vs. New York City All-Star basketball showcase.

Also on Hartley's Long Island squad is Commack senior Samantha Prahalis, a playmaking wizard who's considered the best player in the area.

Mike Petre, who is coaching the Metro Classic's Long Island contingent, is looking for someone to guard Prahalis. One hand shoots up immediately. It's Hartley, who relishes the chance to lock down the future McDonald's All-American and Ohio State standout.

A few days later, most of the team's post players are unable to practice. So when Petre needs a volunteer to guard 6-foot-4 Christine Huber, now a Rutgers freshman, guess who steps up again. That's right, it's Hartley, who was all of
5-foot-6 at the time.

"She's not intimidated by anyone's name or size," says Petre, who also coaches Hartley at North Babylon. "She loves the challenge and will always step up to it."

"I think that comes from my parents, the thought that I can do anything," Hartley adds.

These days, the 5-foot-10, UConn-bound Hartley is the one most players fear guarding. The senior point guard is rated the No. 14 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 and was named Gatorade State Player of the Year last season after averaging 22.4 points, 5.5 steals and 5.3 assists per game.

Ever since Hartley stepped on the floor at North Babylon, she's had unshakable confidence. In the Long Island Class AA championship game against Hicksville her freshman year, she was having a nightmarish outing. With four minutes left in the game, Hartley had missed all eight of her 3-point attempts and North Babylon was trailing by two.

With Hicksville double-teaming North Babylon's two stars -- Chanel Chisholm (now at Cincinnati) and Eugeneia McPherson (now at St. John's) -- Petre told his freshman to keep shooting if she was open.

"She looks at me and says, 'I'm 0-for-8, but I'll take it,'" Petre says.

On the next possession, Hartley drilled a trifecta to give the Bulldogs a one-point lead they wouldn't relinquish as they went on to win the Long Island title.

Plays like that have defined Hartley's career. Entering this season, North Babylon is 66-8 since she joined the team. The program won its first two Long Island championships during her freshman and sophomore years and advanced to the state final each time. Last year, the Bulldogs seemed destined to finish the job. Heading into the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals, they were 20-1 and facing a Copiague team they had beaten twice in the regular season by a combined 47 points.

But McPherson was suspended for the playoff tilt, and Copiague came away with a 58-49 victory. It was a rough ending to an otherwise dream season, one that cemented Hartley's status among the country's premier girls' basketball players.

For those who knew Hartley when she arrived at North Babylon, that's probably a surprising statement. In the ninth grade, a lot of people thought lacrosse was her best sport. Coming from the elite Yellow Jackets club team, she seemed ticketed for lacrosse superstardom.

But over time, Hartley's hoops game kept improving, and it became clear her future was on the court.

"From ninth to 10th grade, she made a huge jump in her basketball IQ and understanding of the game," Petre says. "When you combined that with her skill set, it was a quantum leap forward."

Between 10th and 11th grades, she went from being a very good shooter to a great one, and from a great ball-handler to an out-of-this-world one.

"She has a lights-out handle," Petre says. "The ball is just on a string for her. She has the best handle I've ever seen a girl have. She's the human press break."

Don't take Petre's word for it. Just look at the stats. After averaging 9.9 points and three assists per game as a freshman, Hartley's numbers jumped to 18.3 points and 4.4 assists as a sophomore before getting even better as a junior.

"A great point guard needs to be able to run a team and be a leader," Hartley says. "I'm the type of player who likes to have the ball in my hands."

Hartley attributes her continued improvement to a schedule that's more jam-packed than Jack Bauer's on "24." In the fall, she's an All-County soccer player who plays basketball every day, either with her personal trainer or the high school team. In the winter, it's all hoops, all the time. Then in the spring, she gets into lacrosse mode while still working on her hoops game nearly every day. And for the past couple of years, she's spent her summer traveling nationwide on the AAU circuit with the elite Exodus NYC team.

All the work pays off come game time. Hartley always plays the full 32 minutes, running the fast break on offense and trapping fullcourt on defense without breaking a sweat.

"She's like a cyber player," says her AAU coach, Apache Paschall. "The speed at which she can play the game without ever getting tired is uncanny."

One October day this fall perfectly illustrated the hectic life Hartley leads. She woke up at 5:15 for a 6 a.m. shooting session with her high school basketball team. She then had a full day of school followed by a 4 p.m. soccer game. Once the game ended, she had just enough time to go home, shower and change before heading out to an 8 p.m. workout with her personal trainer. She was back home at 10, at which point she could finally start her homework.

Through it all, Hartley has also managed to deftly handle the responsibilities that come with being a top recruit. During the recruiting process, it wasn't unusual to see the top coaches in the women's game dropping in on North Babylon practices. Ultimately, it was UConn's Geno Auriemma who secured Hartley's commitment this fall.

Balancing that kind of pressure with a fully loaded schedule can be the ultimate challenge for a big-time high school recruit.

No wonder Hartley has handled it so well.