Ashley Bruner knew her agent was talking, but she wasn’t processing most of what he said.
It was August of 2013, months after the former Gamecocks basketball player wrapped up a college career.
“He was saying, ‘We've got you a job in Spain, girl,’ ” Bruner said. “I was excited. I really didn’t hear a lot of what he was saying except for, we got you a job.
“Told me the salary, stuff like that, where it was. It was on an island, and the team name and stuff. He was like, ‘It’s a really great Island,’ and all this. So of course I Googled it immediately afterwards.”
That moment launched her on an international journey.
Once a part of Dawn Staley’s first breakthrough team with the Gamecocks, Bruner has spent the past three years playing in Europe and South America. She’d never looked forward to a professional career during her time in Columbia, but a good senior season and some guidance from coaches gave her a chance.
Since, she’s lived in Spain, Ecuador and Portugal and traveled to Hungary, France and Belgium. She currently plays for Sportiva Azores Airlines in the Portuguese league.
After living in Oklahoma and Columbia, she’s been immersed in different cultures and lifestyle, a learning and growing experience in her words.
“Nothing too hard to adapt to,” Bruner said. “I don’t think, other than being away and being ahead in time. They’re asleep and you’re awake and when you want to go to sleep people are awake. But it’s fun all around.”
The way she plays, that’s a bit different.
At South Carolina, she did the grinding work in the paint, grabbing boards, setting screens. Then everyone else did their job, passing from the point guard, inside help from the other big, relief off the bench.
In Europe, Bruner as the American carries the team. She defends top players, anchors the offense and rebounds. She’s averaging 17.6 points and 11.9 rebounds, figures that jump to 20.8 and 14.9 in Eurocup play.
She’s managed to avoid some of the long bus rides routine in playing on the continent (she’s only been on teams on islands). She has, however, played on courts laid right on concrete and gained a new appreciation for the coaching skills of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley.
Being a top player means she’s often matched up with other Americans, and in a foreign place, that’s always a chance to meet someone new.
“When you play against someone and they’re American, you’re going to want to talk to them because, oh my gosh, English, talk to me,” Bruner said.
She actually spent last Christmas break visiting a friend in London, deviating from a usual trip home.
Her familylives in the Columbia area and her brother Jordan is a star at Spring Valley. He’ll head to Yale next year despite an offer from Clemson, and while Ashley Bruner didn’t want to exert much influence on his choice, but she was happy to see him not end up at “that awful, orange school.”
Most American players eventually return to the states after their careers wrap up, but a few make lives overseas. Bruner is still early in her career, experiencing foreign traditions such as Carnevale for the first time, but she’s thought a little about what that would be like.
Or as least she’s considered it to tweak her parents.
“I always tell my mom this, that I might just stay out here if I find a place that I really, really like, that I really enjoy,” Bruner said. “But I feel like at this time right now ... it would be so difficult to find a place and get a visa or just settle down over here right now. And I’m only 24, so maybe when I’m like 30, I’ll find a place.
“I told my mom London. I loved, loved, loved London. She didn’t like that obviously. She wants me to come home.”
When she’s back stateside, she sees a Gamecocks program wholly unlike the one she first joined. Her first team was coming off the 10–18 record that opened Staley’s tenure. Bruner was part of the group that broke through and returned to the NCAA Tournament.
The program has since ascended to the highest echelon of the sport. Bruner gets a front-row seat to that at alumni games, when she at 6-feet and her 6-foot-1 frontcourt partner from a few years ago face off against the 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-4 towers the team now has inside.
And although she’s a few years gone, plying her trade on islands across the pond, she and her teammates have not been forgotten.
“Some people wouldn’t think to thank us, say, ‘Oh, it started with you.’” Bruner said. “But every time I go home, every time I run at the gym and there are fans and people that watched us play, they’re like, ‘We miss watching you play. We miss seeing you in Garnet and Black.’
“It’s a good feeling to know that people remember.”
Ashley Bruner bio
At USC: 2009-2013, averaging 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds
Current team: Sportiva Azores (Portugal)
Family: Brothers Jordan and Tommy play for Spring Valley