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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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Diana Taurasi breaks WNBA all-time scoring record; Kobe, LeBron offer praise

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About the only thing missing from Diana Taurasi’s record-setting day was a victory.

Taurasi became the WNBA’s career scoring leader in front of her family, friends and Kobe Bryant.

With her parents watching, Taurasi passed Tina Thompson on Sunday in the Phoenix Mercury’s 90-59 loss to the Sparks in Los Angeles.

“It’s pretty special I got to do it in front of my family on Father’s Day in LA,” said Taurasi, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who finished with 19 points.

Taurasi came into the needing 14 points to break the mark set by Thompson, a 2004 and 2008 Olympic teammate, and the Mercury guard did it late in the first half on a layup with her team down big.

“Once I got the basket it was pretty cool,” she said. “I was trying not to think about, wanted it to happen and do it organically. It did. You think about all the great players you played with, all the games.”

Taurasi stands alone atop the league’s scoring list. She has 7,494 points and has averaged 19.9 points in her career.

She said in the weeks leading up to the historic points that she wasn’t thinking about the record.

After the basket, the game stopped and Taurasi was given a warm ovation from the crowd that included Bryant and his daughters as well as Taurasi’s.

“We had this planned on the schedule for quite some time,” Bryant said during an interview in-game. “It worked in our favor we could see a historical night.”

Bryant has always been impressed with how hard Taurasi works.

“To be that great for so many years is a testament to her work ethic and commitment to the game,” Bryant told ESPN. “Her intellect and sacrifice. She’s just a phenomenal athlete.”

Thompson offered her congratulations.

“I am excited that it is Diana and it is my absolute pleasure to pass the torch on to her,” Thompson said. “She and I have shared so many amazing moments throughout our basketball careers, whether it was gold medals, championships or All-Star games. Diana is one of the best players to ever play the game and definitely one of my favorites. She has done amazing things and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to share many of those with her. I am really excited for Diana and I think she is going to blow that record out of the water.”

Taurasi, averaging 18.1 points this year, passed Tamika Catchings for second on the WNBA scoring list early this season. It only took the Mercury star 13 seasons to become the league’s top scorer. Thompson needed 17 years to achieve her total.

Earlier in the season, Taurasi set the career 3-pointer record, passing Katie Smith. Taurasi has 927 3-pointers.

She turned 35 this month and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. She recently signed an extension through 2020 and said she hoped to play at a fifth Olympics with one caveat.

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MORE: Sue Bird keeps Team USA door open, too

WNBA All-Time Scoring List
1. Diana Taurasi — 7,494
2. Tina Thompson — 7,488
3. Tamika Catchings — 7,380
4. Katie Smith — 6,452
5. Cappie Pondexter — 6,449

Diana Taurasi wants to keep playing for Team USA, with Sue Bird

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Diana Taurasi jokes that she “signed a tombstone” with a Phoenix Mercury contract extension through 2020, when she will turn 38 years old.

“Puts me to my graveyard,” she quipped before Sunday’s loss at the New York Liberty.

Hold the eulogy. Taurasi is still one of the world’s best players and could suit up at a fifth Olympics three years.

She scored 37 points in a game last week — her most in the WNBA since 2010.

Including Sunday, she committed zero turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in her career (420 WNBA games, including regular season and playoffs).

She’s shooting 56 percent from the field in her last three games after a 1-for-11 clunker in the opener May 14.

All that has to impress USA Basketball, which next year will try to three-peat at worlds for the first time.

Taurasi said in Rio that she had likely played her final Olympic game, ending her career in that sense 32-0 with four gold medals.

But now she’s sounding optimistic. Not only for the 2018 World Cup, but also the for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“As long as I’m playing at a high level, and I deserve to be out there, then I’ll always put that USA jersey on,” Taurasi said Sunday. “There’s nothing better than that, no matter how many times you’ve done it.”

It would have been fitting for Taurasi to bow out of the Olympics after Rio at the same time as her college coach, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.

“He picked golfing over us,” Taurasi joked Sunday of Auriemma handing over the national-team reins to Dawn Staley.

But Taurasi praised the hiring of Staley. Both guards, Taurasi and Staley were teammates at the 2004 Olympics, where Taurasi made her Olympic debut off the bench and Staley started every game in her Olympic farewell.

Taurasi recently talked with U.S. national-team director Carol Callan about her future with the program. She plans to have more conversations with Staley, Callan and USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.

“See what direction they want to go in,” Taurasi said. “A lot of things can change. A lot of things can come up. I take it day by day. And when it’s time to make a commitment, then I will.”

Taurasi’s value to USA Basketball is enhanced by a lack of depth at guard. The U.S. team of 12 in Rio included just three primary guards — Taurasi, Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen, all 34 years and older.

Come 2020, all three of them will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player — men or women. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant was talked about potentially being placed on the U.S. men’s team in Rio at age 37 for his leadership and experience.

The women’s national team selection committee may face a similar situation.

“That’s going to be a big decision in how they go forward with the worlds and Tokyo,” Taurasi said when asked about “a Kobe-like role.”

Throughout her career, Taurasi has been most linked with Bird. Backcourt mates at UConn and at four Olympics.

Last year, Auriemma said he wouldn’t have coached the U.S. unless Taurasi and Bird had been there. Now, Taurasi is taking a page from her old coach’s book.

Her return to USA Basketball is not only dependent on her own play and a selection committee, but also at least somewhat on the undecided Bird’s plans.

“That would be a weird feeling to go out on the court without Sue, especially with USA Basketball,” Taurasi said. “So, no, I probably wouldn’t see that happening.”

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