By Carl Adamec
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Stefanie Dolson heard the cheers coming from Mohegan Sun Arena and knew something was going on with her University of Connecticut women’s basketball teammate Bria Hartley.
“I was in the hallway and I heard the uproar and I thought, ‘That had to be Bria,’ ” Dolson said. “The fact that we went right after each other means a lot. We came in together, won two national championships together, and now we’re going to the WNBA together.”
And on the same team no less.
After the Washington Mystics selected Dolson with the sixth overall pick of Monday night’s WNBA Draft and Hartley was taken seventh overall by the Seattle Storm, the Mystics and Storm completed a trade that sent Hartley and Tihanna Hawkins to Washington for Crystal Langhorne.
“They’ve kind of been attached at the hip for four years so I guess it’s poetic justice,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I’ve always said it doesn’t matter what number you get drafted as long as you get drafted by the right team and have the opportunity to play. I’m thrilled for both of them.”
The Connecticut Sun selected Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike with the first pick. The Tulsa Shock followed by taking Baylor guard Odyssey Sims and the San Antonio Silver Stars chose Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride. Maryland forward Alyssa Thomas was selected fourth by the New York Liberty, though she will never make it to New York. The Sun and the Liberty agreed to a trade that will send former UConn star and 2012 WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles to New York in exchange for second-year center Kelsey Bone, the fourth pick in the 2014 draft, and a 2015 first-round draft pick. Florida State forward Natasha Howard was taken fifth by the Indiana Fever.
Then Dolson got the call.
“I’m so excited, beyond excited. Words are hard to describe it,” Dolson said. “I think I can fit in really well with that team. It’s a high-energy team. I’m excited to go there.
“You don’t know what to expect coming into something like this because there are so many unknowns. This is a dream. A national championship game you have control of. You know going into it that as long as you have confidence in yourself and your team you know what the outcome will be because you know you’ll work as hard as you can. This? You can’t do anything about it. You sit there and wait.”
Dolson, a 6-foot-5 center from Port Jervis, N.Y., played in 154 games, tied for second at UConn, and her 152 starts is the NCAA record. She finished with 1,797 points (12th), 1,101 rebounds (fourth), 378 assists, and 254 blocked shots (fourth). She is one of five players in UConn’s 1,000-1,000 club along with Charles, Maya Moore, Rebecca Lobo, and Jamelle Elliott.
As a senior, she was named to the all-American Athletic Conference first team, the Associated Press All-America second team, and the United States Basketball Writers Association and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-America teams. She averaged 12.5 points on 56.4 percent shooting from the floor, 9.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.3 blocked shots. She was chosen to the AAC all-tournament team, the NCAA Lincoln (Neb.) Regional all-tournament team, and the all-Final Four team. In the final against Notre Dame, she was dominant with 17 points and 16 rebounds. She and Hartley became the ninth and 10th UConn players to be named to a postseason all-tournament team in each of their four years.
Dolson was also the WBCA Defensive Player of the Year and the Senior CLASS award winner.
She was asked if being in Washington would give her a chance to make an early visit to President Obama for that dance-off she wanted.
“Maybe,” Dolson said with a laugh. “No, I don’t think so.”
Hartley, a 5-foot-9 guard from North Babylon, N.Y., ranked in the AAC’s Top 10 in scoring (sixth at 16.2), assists (second at 4.3), assist-to-turnover ratio (second at plus-2.08), and steals (ninth at 1.7). She scored in double figures in her last 24 games. She was named to the all-AAC first team, the AP All-America second team, and the USBWA and WBCA All-America teams. She was also selected to the AAC all-tournament and the NCAA Lincoln Regional all-tournament team.
In her career, Hartley played in 153 games (sixth) and set a program record for minutes played with 4,731. She finished with 1,994 points eighth), 550 rebounds, 559 assists (fifth), and 235 steals (13th). She along with Moore and Diana Taurasi are the only UConn players with 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists.
“This is a dream true,” Hartley said. “I’m proud of what I accomplished in college and excited about the people around me that motivated me to chase my dream. I worked really hard to get here and not everyone gets this opportunity. I’m going to cherish it.”
Dolson and Hartley are the 14th and 15th UConn players selected in the first round.
In their careers the Huskies were 144-11 with two national championships, four Final Four appearances, two regular season league titles, and three league tournament crowns.
“When kids go to college, especially in the last 15 years or so, that’s what they talk about,” Auriemma said. “They talk about, ‘I want to play in the WNBA if I can. I want to be an All-American. I want to win a national championship.’ The more players that we have drafted in the first round, the more players around the country see it, they want to come to Connecticut because they feel like they have a great opportunity to be a first-round draft pick.
“If I hear a kid answer what is your No. 1 goal in college with, ‘I want to be a first-round draft pick,’ I’m probably not going to recruit that kid. But if you play great and win a national championship and you’re an All-American you’ll probably be a first-round draft pick.”
Dolson and Hartley will head back to school and finish up requirements for their degrees before heading off to the Mystics’ training camp.
Washington’s preseason opener is May 5 against Indiana. The Mystics will play in Connecticut three times this season — June 5, August 10, and August 15.
“So many things have happened in the last week for both Bria and I,” Dolson said. “I’m extremely happy for her, too. We couldn’t have asked for a better end to our college careers.”
Or start their WNBA careers.