UConn junior Bria Hartley and Stanford junior Chiney Ogwumike each earned All-America status last season. They each led their team to the Final Four in Denver too.
Hartley and Ogwumike have been friends for a number of years dating back to when they first connected on the AAU circuit. But today when the second-ranked Huskies and top-ranked Cardinal meet at sold-out Maples Pavilion, their friendship will be placed on hold for 40 minutes.
“We’re both really competitive,’’ Hartley said. “So we go out there and we’re trying to win. We both want to play really hard. But off the court we’re friendly towards each and we still talk and laugh. But when we’re on the court we’re focused on winning the game.’’
The friendship between Hartley and Ogwumike strengthened during their stints with USA Basketball. They won their first gold medal together as members of the U.S. FIBA Americas U-18 Championship Team in Colorado Springs, Colo. in 2010. They also won gold with the U.S. FIBA 3×3 World Championship Team in Greece last August.
“Bria Hartley is one of my closest friends in life,’’ Ogwumike said. “We started off getting to know each other in the AAU circuit. It was interesting. You end up playing the same teams later on in the tournament. So we had a rivalry, but a friendly rivalry. And then it came down to us getting recruited and talking about it as girls do. `I don’t know where we’re going to go to school’ and stuff like that. We became friends, like `Oh, it would be great if we could play together.’ But everyone has their different interests. And then came USA Basketball. And Bria has always been in my age division. And this summer we had so much fun. Bria, (Notre Dame All-American) Skylar (Diggins) and then Ann Strother and I went Greece and competed and that was one unique experience, one we didn’t even see coming. So it was really fun.
“And the good thing is that our friendship allowed us to pursue that experience in Greece because the first thing when we got invited, Bria texted me and was like, `Chiney did you hear about this? We’re going to Greece. Three weeks. No tryouts. Like just come out and play.’ And we were like, `Whoa, sounds like a deal to me.’ So our friendship helped us to realize that we both would really like to compete like that. And just being able to spend my summer after Stanford with people that are rivals, but then friendly rivals. We’re frienemies. We’re best friememies. We’re best friends when we’re competing with USA Basketball, but we’re enemies when it comes to (today). So it’s fun.’’