UNCASVILLE >> Dating back the postseason all-star circuit before their freshman seasons at UConn, it was impossible to see Stefanie Dolson without Bria Hartley being close by.
They played together in college for four seasons and were a part of two national championship teams. That was followed by a three-year run as teammates with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
In a span of four days, their on-court partnership came to a sudden end.
Hartley was part of a three-team trade resulting in the North Babylon, N.Y. native being shipped to play for the New York Liberty, the team she grew up watching both on television and in person.
Then Dolson was part of one of the biggest trades in WNBA history as she was a key piece in the deal that resulted in former WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne being acquired by the Washington Mystics.
As luck would have it, the former college and pro teammates were both back in Connecticut as Hartley’s New York team and Dolson’s Chicago squad were among the four taking part in a two-day preseason tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“I joked that I hoped I don’t pass Stef the ball when I play them but we had a great seven years together,” Hartley said. “That is a long time but we have both gone our separate ways. We have both grown over the years, I know she is excited to play in Chicago and I’m excited to play in New York.”
It’s safe to say there won’t be nearly as much pressure on Hartley as there figures to be thrown Dolson’s way.
While it was not a straight Dolson for Delle Donne swap. There are people who might look at it that way.
“We are not the same player,” Dolson said. “I think everybody knows and realizes I am not the same player so I am coming into this team doing whatever I can to help them and not try to be Elena because I can’t, I will fail.”
While Dolson won’t be the offensive dynamo that Delle Donne was during her time in Chicago, she will give Chicago a physical post player who has the ability to score and distribute the ball from the high post.
Dolson found herself in a similar situation as Hartley when it came to receiving information about the impending trade. They both found out only a couple of days before the moves which certainly made for a variety of emotions.
“I was surprised,” Dolson said. “It is sad but at the same time, I think it is good for us. I think we needed to grow apart. It was easy when we were in DC to kind of gravitate towards each other because we knew each other so know it gives us a chance to step outside ourselves.”
The early returns have been positive for Dolson as she acclimates to a new city.
“Chicago has been great, the weather has been nice, my dog loves it so it really has been good,” Dolson said.
“I think it is good, we have a lot of depth so I go into it looking to have everybody average about the same, get solid minutes, play hard. I think I am one of the older posts on the team so I am coming into a leadership position.”
If Dolson likes the city where her new team is located, Hartley is thrilled to be back in New York.
“I watched the New York Liberty play so even today I was excited to put on the jersey,” Hartley said. “When I was younger, we used to watch the games. I remember I was at Kia Vaughn’s first game when she was drafted by the Liberty. It was exciting and it gives you a dream to shoot for and I’ve been able to accomplish it.
“It is going to be awesome, I know a lot of times especially old teachers from my high school and when we played in New York only 3-4 times so it is not always convenient for people and know there are a lot more games throughout the summer and people have a lot more opportunities to see me play.”
The timing of the move helps Hartley is another way. Hartley gave birth to her first child, a son, in January. Her long-time boyfriend Shakim Phillips, a former receiver at UConn, obviously has a key role in the raising of their child. However, being in New York will make it easier for her parents to lend a hand when Hartley has to head to practice or to a game.
“It is awesome, it is definitely a blessing,” Hartley said of motherhood. “I am excited to be a mom just to raise him the best that I can. You are parent and there is somebody you have to teach and have a big impact on their life the best way possible.”
When the trade was made, there were some questions about Hartley’s availability this season but she never had any doubt she’d be ready in time.
“I should say I was pleasantly surprised when I came back to the court, obviously I wasn’t 100 percent but I put in the time and I worked at it,” Hartley said. “I feel pretty good, it is about building up the muscles again but gradually it gets better, that is the great thing about the human body.
“It was kind of based on what I could do and there were certain drills that I could go at my own pace and if I said I could go more, they would push me harder so it was a great process, I really enjoyed it and I was happy that I was ready for training camp.”