Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

WNBA Feature: Former Pitt Star Brianna Kiesel Has Become a Dream For Atlanta

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

WASHINGTON – Brianna Kiesel’s faith never wavered. She always knew she belonged. Kiesel is proof that hard work and perseverance yields rewards.

Not that she ever took playing professionally for granted, but the 5 foot, 7 inch Atlanta Dream guard admitted it was an “eye opener” when the Dallas Wings released her in the middle of last season.

“Being released or basically fired, gives you a chance to reflect and work on what you need to work on,” Kiesel said in the visiting Verizon Center locker room following her team’s 78-72 loss to the Washington Mystics on Sunday. “You never count yourself out. You want to focus your personal being, work on things you didn’t do well as you go further in your career.”

She remained unsigned until February of this year when the Dream signed her to a multi-year deal (terms not disclosed). An integral part of Atlanta’s bright future, Kiesel is happy, home and healthy.

Since Maya Angelou is one of Kiesel’s greatest creative influences according to her WNBA bio, she would appreciate this analogy of her fledging career from the iconic poem “Still I Rise”: Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise.

The defensive dynamo from the University of Pittsburgh encountered a temporary defeat, but wasn’t defeated. She remained confident and patient, understanding that all great accomplishments require time.

“This was a great opportunity with a young team,” Kiesel said. “There’s a good balance between the veterans and newcomers. I was super blessed with this opportunity. I spoke to the coaches and they were super positive. I was (playing) overseas when I got the phone call. This is definitely a good opportunity to learn and get better.”

She played her best game of the Dream’s young season against the Mystics tallying season highs in points (five), assists (four) and rebounds (two). Her impact went beyond the stat sheet.

Kiesel’s energy fueled a second-half defensive assault that helped erase an 18-point deficit. The Dream actually took a one-point lead that lasted nine seconds before dropping its second game of the season.

A human handcuff, Kiesel’s lockdown defense allowed Tiffany Hayes, who was named the WNBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month for May, to begin filling the scoring column. Hayes finished with 24 points.

Kiesel and the Dream (4-2 overall) continue its five-game road trip Wednesday morning against New York (4-3) at Madison Square Garden (NBA-TV, 11 a.m.).

“She's been great for us,” Hayes said. “She's one of those running point guards that we like, and she's doing a great job of filling Layshia [Clarendon] shoes when she comes out of the game. I'd say she’s definitely doing her part and giving what she needs to help us.”

 At one point during the second half, Kiesel was defending Ivory Latta so close that she was practically inside of her uniform. Kiesel body’s was all over the Verizon Center floor collecting floor burns, but more importantly relentlessly gnawing at the concentration of the Mystics with her fleet feet, fast fingers, and super speed. She didn’t back down when she was tossed to the floor by Tianna Hawkins while battling the 6-3 forward for a rebound.

“This was her best game,” Atlanta head coach Michael Cooper said. “She’s a defensive player that we like along the lines of Tiffany Hayes. For her to play well, I was really happy for her. She’s a big part of what we’re trying to build here in Atlanta for the future. She’s a player we’ve been looking at for a while. She’s a good defensive player and a good rebounder and very athletic overall. Part of our youth movement.”

Even though this is Kiesel’s second team, this will be the third city she’s lived in since being drafted 13th overall in the 2015 Draft by the Tulsa Shock. The Shock moved to Dallas last season.

A native of Utica, N.Y., Kiesel, who will turn 24 in July, has always loved playing defense. It was something stressed by Kiesel’s AAU coach Keith Dancy and hammered home during a spectacular career at Pittsburgh in which she scored 1,938 points and handed out 433 assists. Both are marks fifth all-time in Pitt history for Kiesel, who was earned first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors her senior year.

“We were a defensive minded team when I was at Pittsburgh,” Kiesel said. “We really focused on defense. If we’re not scoring and you’re not scoring then it’s going to be O.K. But if you’re not scoring and they’re scoring, then it’s going to be tough. When your offense isn’t working, you have to get it from your defense.”

While she enjoys playing defense with the same ferocity and zest that Cookie Monster loves Chips Ahoy cookies, Kiesel showcased her offensive ability as well when she played for CMB Cargo Uni Gyor in the EuroLeague — the highest level of pro basketball outside of the United States — and in the Hungarian League during the overseas season. She led her team in scoring (10.1 points per game) and assists (3.3).

“I am learning different things from our veterans,” Kiesel said. “My confidence increased when I went overseas. I was able to work on my game and it has carried over to this season.”


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