Briana Gilbreath's Inspiring Journey

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: June 12, 2013

Briana Gilbreath is an expert at adapting.

Things change, situations change. The key is being open to making modifications on your approach in order to respond accordingly. For Gilbreath, a former USC standout, change has never been paralyzing – it’s always been an occasion to grow, advance and become a better player.

In fact, all Briana Gilbreath needed was a seven-day contract.

“The first seven-day contract I received from Phoenix last year was nothing short of a blessing from God,” says the 6-0 guard with conviction. “There are many reasons for me believing that. I was drafted late in the third round where your chances of making a team are very slim, I was released before being able to play in a preseason game, and when the Mercury picked me up the WNBA season was over halfway complete.

“I believed that all I needed was a chance; all I needed was a week and that’s what I was given.”

In sports, the character trait that frequently separates professionals from amateurs is belief. Players can have all the talent in the world, but if they don’t believe in themselves and incessantly work to improve, it can all be for naught.

Gilbreath, however, has always carried a belief and faith in herself that she “can do it” – even when (supposed) hindrances occur.

“I always see setbacks as a time to grow and become stronger,” Gilbreath confidently says. “Sometimes you have to go through the rough patches to get to where you want to be and to become the person you are called to be. I just feel like no matter what happens in life, good or bad, it all happens for a reason and it will always come together perfectly in the end. But you have to have faith.”

Gilbreath went on to appear in 11 games (three starts) for the Mercury in 2012 on a series of three seven-day contracts averaging 7.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per outing. She set a career-high in points (13), including a perfect 5-5 from the line vs. San Antonio on Sept. 1, 2012.

Her impressive rookie season led to a contract with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2013, but she was released by Los Angeles prior to the start of the 2013 WNBA season.

Still, Gilbreath’s confidence wasn’t shaken.

“When I was younger, I used to play for my dad on an AAU team three years ahead of my age group,” says Gilbreath. “He would never play me and said I just needed to be patient and that my opportunity would come. Every day in practice he would tell me I had to work the hardest, always finish first in my sprints, and always be in-tune so that I would be ready if I ever did get a chance. From that point on I have always looked at hard work as just something I knew I had to do.

“It’s kind of just been instilled in me that you have to be prepared because when opportunity knocks, it’s too late to work.”

Not surprisingly, another opportunity would present itself for Gilbreath. Needing a player of her caliber – one who is willing to work hard on both ends of the floor with an infectiously positive attitude – the Mercury quickly picked her back up on May 22.

Now, just four games into the season, Gilbreath has stepped up big time averaging 31 minutes of action over the past two games (earning her a starting spot in the team’s win over the Fever). In those games, Gilbreath has totaled 16 points and six assists while shooting 47 percent from the floor (7-15) and playing tenacious defense.

More importantly, her energy and willingness to do anything the team needs her to have been a welcomed presence in the Mercury locker room.

Indeed, Gilbreath's continuous display of heart has earned the respect of both players and coaches.

“Briana is a great person to have as a teammate,” says Mercury center Krystal Thomas. “Everything about her is positive no matter what the circumstances are. It’s reassuring to know that there will always be a bright spot in the locker room and on the court. She also goes very hard while she plays, so it’s easy to feed off of her energy.”

Gilbreath is a perfect example of what happens when hard work meets belief. Rather than take things for granted, she takes them with appreciation.

“Every day I step on the floor, I look at it as an amazing opportunity that I didn't have a year ago around this time,” Gilbreath says. “Every day that I have with this team, in my eyes, is a blessing. I won’t take it for granted because just as quickly as it came it can be taken away. I see it as a chance to get better, improve on my weaknesses and push myself and my teammates.

“I see it as another day to play the game that I love.”