Saunders heads to Australia
Brianti “Brea” Saunders shoots for her dreams as she heads Down Under.
The 24-year-old former Hilliard Middle-Senior High School and Stetson University basketball phenom set records for both teams.
Saunders will play for the Premier League’s South Adelaide Panthers in Adelaide, Australia. The women play a six-month season. Saunders will stay with the mother of a Lady Stetson teammate she befriended in college.
She learned of her new team status in early January. She left Feb. 6 to start the next phase of her basketball career.
When she’s not practicing and training for team action, Saunders will coach children in basketball. She has assisted the Lady Flashes basketball and volleyball teams since 2017. She’s excited to suit up for the Panthers.
“I just want to go there and bring to the table whatever that they’re missing,” she said. “You know, whether that is shooting or driving to the basket, whatever it is they need me to do. But most all, I’m going to stay being myself. Because everywhere I’ve went, whatever I’ve done, has been successful, so I don’t really believe I’ll change anything. But whatever mostly, they need me to do, I’ll do it.”
Saunders has always dreamt of playing women’s basketball overseas.
“Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to be in a small town and go somewhere big,” she said. “But I think it’s more just like I said of your thought process. I think just because my dad’s always and my mom has always told me never to settle. Just playing basketball and going to college, I never really try to think small-minded.”
She broke records as a Lady Hatter. She earned a .934 shooting percentage in free throws during senior year, ranking second in the entire NCAA in 2017. That same year, she was the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year, becoming the only third Lady Hatter to achieve the title.
She is proficient at landing 3-pointers.
“I am the all-time leading scorer there,” Saunders said. “I broke the record for the most points in a career. And also I broke the record for most points in a game – 40 points was the record for a single game. And I scored close to 2,000 points for my career. I also broke a lot of other records there.”
She continued, “But really, my main goal when I got there wasn’t to break records. It was just basically to make a difference, to be the best player that I could be and to grow. Coach (Lynn) Bria helped me a lot with that. She taught me to be a leader. And I think a lot of me just growing into those elements and aspects of basketball helped me to be a successful basketball player.”
At 5 feet, 4 inches, Saunders doesn’t view her height as a disadvantage. She does strength training to increase power on the court.
“Well, one, I work on my game nonstop,” she said. “And being that I am small, that is a disadvantage, but then again, it’s not. I think playing basketball, it’s all about your heart and the toughness that you have versus your height. Yes, height is an additional advantage, but for me, I already knew I was going to be small, so I couldn’t dwell on that, so I had to find others way to be a great player.”
Hilliard boys varsity basketball coach Myron Saunders began coaching his daughter after she showed an interest in basketball in the fourth grade. She also watched mom Wanda Saunders coach basketball and began practicing on her own.
“I taught her dribbling, shooting, everything I could,” Myron said.
Her dad also taught her to play smart, Saunders recalled.
Under his guidance, she increased her jump game and learned how to be a two-level and three-level player, making her harder to stop.
‘Basketball is played 90 percent from the shoulders up, not down,” Saunders said. “So my dad’s always said, you know, you’ve got to think about the game. And it’s easy to be a smart player and be successful. I don’t really think you have to have height to be a great player. I think that’s why I’ve been so successful, because I didn’t really dwell on me being small. I have a big heart and I play big.”
Her father is a major force in her life on and off the court.
“Basically without my dad, I am nothing,” Saunders said. “He is like, literally, the other part of me. He does everything for me, like, he’s the critic – he’s the supporter. … I became this good of a player because he never really sugar-coated anything with me. He’s always wanted me to be the best I can be. And he’s pushed me and I love him for that, literally, like, I wouldn’t even be here without him.”
She continued, “He’s awesome. And you can tell that through every sport that he coaches. Every kid that plays for him loves him. It just speaks volumes. I mean, that’s the reason why he is the way he is.”
He is proud of Brea’s accomplishments.
“It’s, I guess you call, bittersweet,” Myron said. “I’m very happy for her and, at the same time, I’m going to miss her.”
Lady Flashes varsity basketball Coach Tara Franklin admires Saunders and the magic she works on the court.
“Brea Saunders has the ‘It Factor,’” the coach said. “The ‘It Factor’ cannot be coached. You’re born with it and she has it.”
She reiterated how Saunders broke scoring records in high school and college. At HMSHS, the former Lady Flash consistently won all-county player honors. Her former coach wishes her well.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for her and for her family and this community is extremely proud of her,” Franklin said.
Saunders fondly recalled the times she’s had with Franklin.
“Really, she has blessed me a lot,” she said. “She has taught me a lot as a player and as a coach. She’s very humble. She’s very supportive. Not only does she want her players to be good players, she wants them to be good people in life. She’s a good Christian lady. I love her to death. She supports me in everything that I do. She makes sure you’re doing the right things. And I like that about her. She’s very patient and kind and loving and just an overall good person.”
With her goal in reach, the young woman encourages student athletes to work toward theirs.
“Being a coach, I’ve noticed that a lot of kids have low self-esteem and low confidence,” she said. “They don’t believe in themselves. But I would encourage more athletes to just work hard and believe in themselves. Because really, when you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
Perseverance is also a key to success, according to Saunders.
“No matter where you are, no matter how small the school is, no matter what, just work hard and you’ll end up being what you want to be,” she said. “Really, it’s based upon you. Nobody else. You get yourself where you want to go. And I would love to see more people believe in themselves and strive for greatness each and every day.”