basketball Edit

Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson sign to play in Europe

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From left, former Stanford players Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson before a game against Arizona State. (Bob Drebin, isiphotos.com)

Two of the senior leaders of perhaps the most surprising run to the Final Four in Stanford women’s basketball history aren’t done playing. The news was announced Tuesday that Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson will play in Italy and Hungary, respectively.

Roberson signed with PEAC-Pécs and Samuelson with Pallacanestro Vigarano.

A year ago at this time there may not have been many people outside of the Stanford locker room willing to bet on professional careers for the two former Cardinal guards. But, as so often was the case in the 2016-17 season, their doubters were proven wrong.

Samuelson and Roberson had “terrific” seasons as “phenomenal seniors,” said associate head coach Kate Paye.

“Both of them improved so much over the course of their four years and both of them are passionate about basketball,” she said. “They love the game. To see them get the opportunity to play professionally is really exciting.”

It was possible to hear the smiles through the phone when talking to Samuelson and Roberson about starting careers as basketball players.

“I’m just so excited with happiness,” Roberson laughed.

Samuelson marveled: “To think that I’m playing professionally is so cool and so funny. I just never thought that would happen to me. When I was playing with the (LA) Sparks I got to start the first two preseason games because most of their returners weren’t back, yet. Let me tell you, that was a crazy experience. It was so cool I got to fricken start two WNBA games. Again, that’s so funny to me.”

Samuelson played in the preseason with the Sparks and had a good chance of making the final roster when she suffered a fracture in her left foot after a player fell on her. It was a tough break, but only a temporary setback for a player who for her first two years at Stanford didn’t give much thought to playing basketball after college.

During Samuelson’s junior year she started to play more, saw noticeable improvement and, most importantly, she really enjoyed playing while having greater responsibility on the team.

Paye described it as “clicking” on the court for one of the program’s all-time best three-point shooters. She was able to combine her considerable basketball IQ with a skill set she developed beyond her reputation as a sharpshooting Samuelson.

Roberson often partnered in the backcourt with Samuelson and the two-time team captain was one of Stanford’s best defensive stoppers. She was only the third Cardinal in program history to be named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team.

When she wasn’t ruining an opponent’s shooting percentage, she often caused teammates to leap out of their seats during clutch moments.

“We called her ‘Big Shot Bri,’” Paye said. “She hit some huge shots in a lot of games for us that were critical.”

The fans of PEAC will be able to cheer on the Fullerton, Calif. native because Roberson trusted the advice of her agent -- Alicia Lopez of 4 Players Sports -- that the team and city near the Croatian border had everything she prioritized. She wanted an opportunity to contribute to the team right away, play in domestic and EuroCup games and a chance to live near one of Europe’s great cities (Budapest) wouldn't hurt, either.

“I knew I wanted to play overseas my entire time at Stanford,” she said. “To see this come to fruition was really mind blowing for me. Just seeing the help I got from friends and the coaching staff, the various connections I have, everyone was willing to help me make this dream come true.

“That I have a flight in the middle of August to go to Hungary is really insane to me.”

Roberson has spoken to Samuelson about meeting somewhere in Europe during their free time. Samuelson is about an eight-hour drive away in Vigarano in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy about 25 miles northeast of Bologna.

Their basketball schedules will probably make it difficult to spend much time together during the season, but Samuelson, Roberson and the rest of their former teammates will always be connected by what they accomplished on the court at Stanford.

Several months of separation from a painful end to the season in a loss to eventual champion South Carolina makes it easier to focus on the highlights. To name a few, there was head coach Tara VanDerveer's 1,000th career win, the Pac-12 Tournament crown and beating Notre Dame in an instant-classic Elite Eight matchup.

“The last game was obviously tough, but thinking about it now I just don’t know what other word than it’s crazy we made it to the Final Four,” Samuelson said. “The Final Four experience is just something else and you can’t describe it to someone until you go and experience it.”

Stanford was the only team in the Final Four without an All-American on the roster. But the Cardinal beat several teams led by stars during the season and tournament run. The group’s unbreakable togetherness forged a team greater than the sum of its parts.

“This year’s team was certainly special for me because the way these girls worked inspired me,” Roberson said. “Our work ethic as a team and individually was something I haven’t seen before. Hopefully I can bring to the table in Hungary the same culture of work ethic.”