Former Indy Miss Basketball Bria Goss takes hard road from Ben Davis HS to WNBA

Photo: Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Before her eyelashes froze in Finland …

Before Kentucky, before the broken hand, before she became a bartender at Bankers Life Fieldhouse …

Before the cancer …

Bria Goss played at Ben Davis High School (Indianapolis). She was IndyStar Miss Basketball in 2011. For the story in the newspaper announcing that award, she told the Star her dream: the WNBA.

That was eight years ago. Things happen. Things change. Along the way, 5-10 guard Bria Goss stopped telling people her dream. It’s not failure if nobody knows your goal, right? She wasn’t going to utter those words aloud again – I want to play in the WNBA– and didn’t. Not for eight years.

Until she got the email a few weeks ago from the Indiana Fever. And learned her dream had come true.

Survival by denial

The tumor in her tummy was so big, the doctor thought Bria Goss was pregnant.

“Uh, no,” Bria told the doctor.

It was so big, she was losing blood and losing energy and sleeping 15 hours a day. It was so big, Bria could feel it with her fingers. It was so big, she was risking death if she didn’t have her reproductive system removed.

Another thing she wouldn’t talk about.

Understand something about Bria Gross: She’s an exceptional talker, and disarmingly open. You’ll see in a minute. Oh, you’ll see all right. But after the surgeons removed her uterus in August 2017, removed her ovaries and her fallopian tubes – “The whole nine,” she says – she went into denial. It was her way through the horror of a hysterectomy at age 24.

“I was so sad that the only thing that would help me in the moment was to just not think about it,” says Goss, 26. “Because of that I was able to smile, I was able to laugh, I was able to go out and enjoy myself, because it didn’t happen to me. It just didn’t.”

She was able to keep playing. Keep chasing her unspoken dream along this journey of hers, this journey that led her from Ben Davis to Bankers Life.

“Everyone has their own journey,” Bria says.

Not everyone takes the scenic route.

Basketball by day, bartender by night

She watched the Fever as a kid on the west side, where she led Ben Davis to back-to-back state titles in 2009 and ‘10, and when she was playing for the University of Kentucky, where she was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012. She watched the Fever as an adult, back home from Finland and later Israel, sitting in the crowd and wondering why she wasn’t out there on the court, why the WNBA – why her childhood team – wasn’t inviting her to try out.

Until now, armed with her first WNBA contract, the only time Bria Goss earned money at Bankers Life was when she worked the Sun King Brew Deck as a bartender. She worked Indiana Pacers home playoff games against Cleveland in 2018. She worked the Panic! At The Disco concert. She also worked the Garth Brooks concert at Notre Dame, football games at Purdue and most of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Remember the actor Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, waving the green flag at the 2018 Indy 500? Goss was there. Bartending in Hemsworth’s private suite.

“Had to earn some money,” she says of her decision to attend Midwest Bartenders School in Castleton in 2018.

Professional basketball in Finland and Israel wasn’t paying the bills, though for 18 harrowing months there, money was the least of her problems.

The first sign was the exhaustion in February 2016. Then the excessive bleeding during her menstrual cycle, blood loss so severe that she needed a transfusion. Then the stomachache that had her doubled over at her apartment in Finland, calling coaches for help. They took her to the hospital, where an ultrasound revealed …

The baby?

“My uterus was 10 centimeters (across),” she says. “The fibroid was 8 centimeters. The doctor said: ‘Are you pregnant?’”

Medicine shrank the fibroid, but it grew back in June 2017. Grew bigger than ever, actually: 9½ centimeters. The biopsy revealed the fibroid was actually a cancerous tumor, and the need for the hysterectomy, but first doctors salvaged some of her eggs. They are in a freezer now – “Not my freezer,” Bria says. “The freezer” – and she hopes to use them someday to have children.

“They got 46 eggs!” she says.

Told you: Bria Goss is an open book. Except for her WNBA dream. For the longest time, she kept that book closed.

From fluke to Fever camp

And the journey started so well, too.

The state titles at Ben Davis, the Miss Basketball award, the No. 17 national ranking by ESPN in the high school class of 2011. The freshman season at Kentucky, where she averaged 11 points per game. She’d never score that much again, coming closest as a junior at 10.2 ppg, though Goss was steady; she ended her career ranked 17th on the UK scoring list with 1,318 career points despite missing time as a senior with a broken hand.

The UK staff remade Goss from pure scorer to defensive

stopper and glue player, someone who drew 20 of Kentucky’s 46 charges during her sophomore season, but the WNBA doesn’t demand players who can draw a charge. They want scoring guards who can score, and they prefer them taller than 5-10. Same goes for teams overseas. After graduating from Kentucky in 2015, Goss went undrafted by the WNBA and ignored overseas, not landing an offer until the 2015-16 season had started – in Finland, one of the lowest rungs on the European basketball ladder.

And that was a fluke.

That summer of 2015, Goss shared a trainer with former Ball State standout Porchia Green, a 2005 Indiana All-Star at Arlington. Green has played across Europe, but her first job was in Finland.

“A teammate hit (Green) up on Facebook and said, ‘We need a player – know anyone?’” Goss says. “She gave my name.”

Her unlikely journey into an WNBA camp had begun, in minus-30 temperatures in Finland. (“Your eyelids literally freeze and turn white,” Goss says.) She was a scoring machine there and in Israel, averaging close to 20 ppg, but Goss had decided long ago to keep her mouth shut about the WNBA. Her dreams? Broadcasting, she’d tell people. Not the WNBA. Heavens, no.

“I stopped saying it at Kentucky – I didn’t tell anybody,” she says. “Maybe if I did, some things would have been different. I don’t know. I guess I didn’t tell people because had I not gotten there, then I failed. And I didn’t want people to know I failed.”

But here she is, in an WNBA camp with her hometown team. She hasn’t made the team yet but survived the latest cut, when the Fever released Crystal Bradford on Friday, an accomplishment in itself. Bradford was the seventh overall pick by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2015 WNBA Draft, the same year Goss went undrafted. They play the same position. Bradford even has better size (6-0).

But Goss survived the cut, now one of 15 players for 12 roster spots. Three preseason games this week, including a home date at noon on Thursday against the Chicago Sky, will be critical.

“After all that time on my journey, of course I wanted to see the light at the end of the tunnel – but it was hard,” she says. “Four years ago when I was hardly going overseas, this opportunity didn’t look real. I didn’t see it coming in a million years. So when I finally got that call to check my email and there’s my contract (from the Fever), I just cried. I was so excited. Not only because I’m getting my first WNBA contract as a 26-year-old woman, but I’m getting my contract with the team I grew up watching.”

Here, after a hard interview where we talked about cancer and hysterectomies and her professional career nearly ending before it started, I ask Bria Goss the hardest question of all:

What if you don’t make the team?

She’s smiling.

“I’m so excited to be here, in camp,” she says. “I’m just soaking up everything I can – taking it day by day, not getting too ahead of myself. Of course I want to make the team, probably more than anybody because I’m a hometown girl, but just being in this opportunity …”

Goss pauses. She’s dabbing at her eyes, and not for the first time during our conversation.

“From what I went through, looking back, it’s just unbelievable,” she says. “Unbelievable experience for me.”

And again.

“Unbelievable,” she says.

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