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Bria Hartley could have been the next great U.S. point guard. Now she plays for France.

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The U.S. women’s basketball program spent much of the last decade looking for its next point guard — the one to succeed three of its greatest leaders — Teresa Edwards in the 1980s and ’90s, Dawn Staley in the early 2000s and Sue Bird ever since.

Bria Hartley could have been that player. At the University of Connecticut (where Bird also played), Hartley started and won national titles her last two seasons in 2013 and 2014. She made the WNBA All-Rookie Team in 2014.

Also in 2014, Hartley was the second-youngest of the 27 players on the world championship training camp roster. She did not end up making the 12-woman world team. After an injury-affected 2015, she wasn’t among 25 Olympic team finalists named in January 2016.

Hartley considered her options. She knew about an opportunity to play for France, given one of her grandmothers is French. Obtaining a French passport could be valuable for playing in European leagues, where salaries were known for being exponentially higher than the WNBA, but there could be roster limits on American players.

And then there’s the Olympics. The U.S. is the hardest team to make, winner of every Olympic title dating to 1996.

Ultimately, Hartley chose to become the fourth acclaimed American point guard to play for another country in as many Olympic cycles.

Becky Hammon was the most famous, earning a bronze medal for Russia in 2008. She was followed by Lindsey Harding, who left for Belarus in 2015. And Courtney Vandersloot, who became a Hungarian citizen after missing the Rio Olympic team.

Hartley’s case is different because of her family’s French background. Asked why she sought the nationality switch, Hartley stressed that lineage and that she knew about the option years before becoming a pro.

Hartley said she received her French passport in February 2016. She hoped to play for France at the Rio Olympics. She still needed approval from USA Basketball and FIBA, which did not come until 2017 and 2018.

USA Basketball has record of a request from the French federation for Hartley’s transfer in May 2016, the month after the U.S. Olympic team was announced and two months before France’s Olympic team was announced. (France’s national team director wrote in an email that his recollection is that Hartley expressed her desire to play for France to its coach in October 2017.)

USA Basketball did not immediately approve the request for a few reasons. USA Basketball hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss the matter with Hartley. It still considered Hartley a national team-level prospect, and at a need position. The U.S. could play France, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, in the Rio Olympic knockout rounds.

“With Sue and D [Diana Taurasi] getting older, they just weren’t sure what they were going to do at the point guard position,” Hartley said. “I think they were just keeping their options open.”

U.S. national team director Carol Callan spoke with Hartley while attending the 2017 NCAA Women’s Final Four. Hartley confirmed her intent to play for France.

“We want to make sure that they actually want to do it [transfer],” Callan said, “because once you go, you can’t go back.

“In general, we don’t necessarily want to stand in the way of someone being able to play for another country if that’s what they want to do, other than right before the Olympics. Had the request come in even after the Olympics, that would have been easier to deal with.”

The French federation contacted USA Basketball later in 2017 with the follow-up transfer request. Hartley had approval from both national federations.

Then it went to FIBA. Hartley said the international federation rejected the request at first and asked for further proof of her French connection.

“Cases relating to the change of a national status of a player require an in-depth study of the player’s links with the country s/he wishes to represent, which often go beyond the mere presentation of a passport,” a FIBA official wrote in response to questions on Hartley’s case, including a question on the timeline of the transfer request and approval. “This is particularly the case when a player holds two nationalities and is asked to present concrete links with a given country.”

Hartley ended up also missing the 2018 FIBA World Cup during the review.

“If I got my passport when I was younger, started this process when I was younger, it would have been a lot smoother,” said Hartley, who had son Bryson in January 2017.

In October 2018, two weeks after the World Cup ended, the French federation announced that Hartley became eligible for its national team. She played at the 2019 European Championships (EuroBasket) and helped France to a silver medal, ranking second on the team in scoring.

There have been critics. Notably from followers of her new program.

“They’re like, she’s an American playing on the French team,” Hartley said. “She’s not really French and stuff like that, so I know I’ve dealt with that. But, for me, I feel like I have French blood. I just didn’t grow up [in France].”

France is ranked fifth in the world. The Olympic groups haven’t been set yet, but it’s possible Hartley could compete against the U.S. in Tokyo next summer.

She could stare into Bird, the fellow UConn Husky whom she was a candidate to succeed in the U.S. program. Or another point guard who establishes herself over the next year as next in line. Perhaps Sabrina Ionescu.

Hartley said it would be an exciting contest. She feels no different wearing the red, white and blue of another country.

“I always took a lot of pride in my French heritage,” she said. “Especially growing up in New York, light skinned, a lot of people are like, are you Spanish or something like that? I was always like, no, I’m French.”

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe and a dorky first impression

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Megan Rapinoe won Olympic gold and a World Cup, but she didn’t quite know how to act the first time she met Sue Bird.

The setting: The November 2015 NBC and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media summit in West Hollywood, Calif. More than 100 hopefuls for the Rio Games gathered over a series of days for interviews and promotional photo and video shoots.

Rapinoe and Bird happened to be scheduled on the same day. They happened to cross paths between stages.

Rapinoe, uncharacteristically nervous, searched for something to say. Bird was in a basketball uniform.

“Hey, ready for your game?” Rapinoe threw out as a joke.

She was immediately overcome with the dorkiness of the line.

“I walked away, just like, why would you ever say that?” Rapinoe said.

The feeling was mutual.

“I walked away like, I thought you were supposed to be cool,” Bird said.

Though Bird and Rapinoe each played for club teams in Seattle, their next meeting came nearly nine months later at the Rio Olympics.

Rapinoe, whose team was upset in the quarterfinals, attended some of Bird’s games. When Bird injured her knee mid-tournament, Rapinoe texted to ask if she was OK. Bird came back and guided the U.S. to a fourth straight gold. She and Rapinoe hung out and even went to a party together.

Upon returning to Seattle, they began communicating regularly. In July 2017, Bird publicly came out and said she started dating Rapinoe in fall 2016.

“We are pretty boring and like to sit on the couch and do what most people do, but we do understand that, culturally, it’s a thing,” Rapinoe said.

Bird will likely play in her fifth and final Olympics in Tokyo. At 40 years old, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player in history by three years. It could also be the last Olympics for Rapinoe, who turns 36 next July.

MORE: Sabrina Ionescu’s unprecedented Olympic decision

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Sabrina Ionescu’s unprecedented Olympic question: Which team to play for?

Sabrina Ionescu
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There was no doubt which WNBA team would draft Sabrina Ionescu back on April 17. What’s unclear is which U.S. basketball team she would suit up for at the Tokyo Olympics next summer: the traditional 5×5 team or for the new Olympic 3×3 event.

Ionescu, the No. 1 overall pick of the New York Liberty, appeared a strong hopeful for 3×3, if the Tokyo Games had been held this summer. She was, as of January, the U.S.’ top player in international rankings for 3×3.

Ionescu even said last July, while at the Pan American Games for 3×3, that, if forced to choose between traditional 5×5 and 3×3 at the Olympics, she preferred 3×3, according to the Olympic Channel.

It made plenty of sense at the time. Consider Ionescu would play for the University of Oregon in the winter and spring of 2020 when U.S. Olympic 5×5 hopefuls would gather for practices and exhibitions ahead of the roster being named in June.

The Olympic postponement to 2021 changed all that. Now, Ionescu gets a (shortened) season of pro ball, plus an offseason to potentially prove herself in front of U.S. coach Dawn Staley, before the Olympic teams get named. (The U.S. must still qualify a 3×3 team for the Olympics, but it would be shocking if it fails.)

Ionescu did not state a preference between 3×3 and 5×5 when asked her thoughts on the situation on Sunday.

“I have no idea what they [USA Basketball] were going to do with the Olympics, if they were going to be this year. I wasn’t told anything. I was just playing and enjoying my college career,” she said ahead of her WNBA debut on Saturday. “It didn’t matter to me if I was going to get the opportunity to play 3×3 or 5×5, I would’ve taken it because it’s an honor to represent my country.”

Ionescu must have at least 3,600 FIBA ranking points in 3×3 come June 21, 2021, to be eligible for that team. Since ranking points expire after one year, she may need to take part in 3×3 competition or training camp tournaments in the next 11 months to be eligible.

Or, Ionescu could devote all of her basketball between the Liberty and, potentially, the national 5×5 team over the next year.

“I do have a year to be able to play against the best women in the world and just be able to see where I compare,” she said.

Ionescu turns 23 on Dec. 6. At least one player 23 years or younger made each of the last four U.S. Olympic women’s teams. Ionescu is younger than any point guard to make an Olympic team since 1988.

The U.S. is looking for somebody to take the baton from Sue Bird, who at 40 would become the oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player in history by three years in Tokyo.

Carol Callan, the U.S. women’s national team director who is also on the 3×3 selection committee, said in May that a conversation is merited with any player who has an opportunity to play on either Olympic team.

She noted that anybody on the Olympic 3×3 team would be guaranteed significant playing time since the roster is four players, with a substitution planned at every dead ball. Given the schedule, it’s not feasible for somebody to play both 3×3 and 5×5 at the Olympics.

“I have no idea what a player would think through that process because most players are pretty confident in their abilities, but if you thought you were going to be a role player for a 5×5 team, but you had a chance to be on 3×3, you might choose that,” Callan said.

MORE: USA Basketball career Olympic points leaders

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