Published July 27. 2011 4:00AM
New London - Jessica Breland spent the past few weeks as an unemployed college graduate.
But being 23 years old and without a job was easy compared to what Breland had already dealt with in her young life.
Breland missed what was to be her senior year at North Carolina due to Hodgkin's lymphoma. It has since gone into remission, and she signed a seven-day contract Sunday with the Connecticut Sun.
"It's definitely been a learning experience," Breland said of getting another job. "(I'm) grateful being able to be on a team. It's just a blessing."
Breland, a 6-foot-3 forward, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in May 2009. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system, and the cancer causes cells in the system to grow abnormally. It can spread throughout the body and compromises the body's ability to fight infection.
Chemotherapy caused Breland nausea, fatigue and hair loss. She had treatments for six months and was forced to redshirt the 2009-10 year. She still went to all her classes and had a 2.99 GPA with a double major in communications and African-American studies.
Breland returned this past season and averaged 12.4 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds as she helped the Tar Heels to the Sweet Sixteen. She also earned first-team All-ACC tournament honors after averaging 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Breland was drafted 14th overall (second round) in April by the Minnesota Lynx and traded to the New York Liberty for Angel Robinson and a 2012 second-round pick. She played nine games for New York and had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
The Liberty waived her on July 5 to make room for fellow rookie Felicia Chester.
"A lot of my family and friends were more disappointed and hurt than I was," Breland said. "Things happen in life. God, he closes one door, and when one closes, another one opens. Maybe New York wasn't the place for me or my calling. I just lifted my hands up and put it all in his hands.
"I spent the last few weeks in the weight room, playing in some pro-am games, just to get up and down the court. I worked out with (former North Carolina teammate) Rashanda McCants, who just got cut by Tulsa, a lot."
Connecticut signed her after it agreed to waive veteran post DeMya Walker Friday.
"I learned a lot from New York and am looking forward to learning a lot here," Breland said.
Sun coach Mike Thibault said: "What I told her is that she's a young player who not going to probably get a lot of minutes here. To try to get better every day. Make the people in front of her better at practice by how hard she plays. Cheer like crazy on the bench and if she gets in, she gets in. It's a role that she's wiling and able to accept. It was just gong to be a harder role for DeMya to accept because she a veteran player and wants to play."
Breland is already friends with Sun teammate Tina Charles as they were roommates at the 2006 McDonald's All-America Game.
"Tina Charles, she's been there for me," Breland said. "She sent me flowers and stuff when I was going through treatment. Just to be able to be with someone like that, I'm grateful."