New York Liberty guard Bria Hartley has had a relatively successful WNBA career. She started her 2014 rookie season on the right note with the Washington Mystics where she made the All-Rookie Team. However, she had an injury-riddled 2015 season and played during the early stages of pregnancy in the first half of the 2016 season. After getting traded to New York in 2017, Hartley regained her form and started most of the Liberty’s games in each of the last two seasons.
Last month, the Fédération Française de Basketball (or the French Basketball Federation) announced that Hartley will play for the France women’s national basketball team. Hartley also joins a growing list of American guards who have decided to compete for other countries because of a lack of opportunities on the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, where things are very competitive, and Team USA isn’t ready to part ways with the Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi in the backcourt just yet.
Why is Hartley playing for France? She never played there.
Most Americans who play for other countries, like Courtney Vandersloot does for Hungary, do so because they have played for several years in that country. Hartley is playing for Fenerbahçe in Turkey during the winter, but she is not playing for the Turkish national team. In fact, Hartley has never played for a French team — professional or otherwise.
The reason Hartley is able to play for France is quite simple —she has French citizenship through her mother’s side of the family. Since Hartley never played for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team in a World Cup, Olympics or AmeriCup qualifier, she is effectively a free agent internationally.
Finally, Hartley said in a French TV interview that she is genuinely interested in learning more about her European roots, so playing for France is one way to honor that.
When will Hartley play for France?
The French will play two more qualifiers for EuroBasket Women 2019, which is when Hartley will start playing with the French national team. The team will hit the road on Nov. 17 to play Romania in a Group E match. Then, on Nov. 21, they will host Slovenia in their last Group E match.
France currently leads Group E in the standings but still hasn’t officially punched their ticket to EuroBasket Women 2019 because they are in second place.
France is one of the world’s best teams without Hartley. Why would they need her?
The France women’s national basketball team is currently ranked fourth in the world, but they had a disappointing performance in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, where they placed fifth. Furthermore, their backcourt needs some reinforcements.
In the group stage, the French lost 71-60 to Canada in a Group A match on Sept. 25. In that game, France had few answers for Kia Nurse, who scored 18 points and dished 6 assists in the victory that helped the Canadians clinch the group. Although France made the quarterfinals, they lost in embarrassing fashion to their northern neighbors, Belgium, 86-65. In that game, Kim Mestdagh scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while Julie Allemand dished 13 assists.
Ultimately, the French backcourt needed reinforcements before playing their last two EuroBasket Women 2019 qualifier games. The French no longer have long-time point guard Celine Dumerc, and starting point guard Olivia Epoupa was not enough. Having Hartley on the court should help even things out the next time the French play other backcourt-heavy teams like Belgium.
Is Hartley’s departure from the USA player pool part of a continuing trend of guards leaving because of few international opportunities?
Yes, it is. But Hartley’s move is unique.
In the case of players like Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley playing for Hungary or Kristi Toliver playing for Slovakia in 2015, they had little, if any relations with the countries they played for. In Hartley’s case, however, she has French citizenship and was aware of her roots there for some time.
But Vandersloot, Quigley, Toliver and Hartley do share one thing in common: All are, at the very least, starting caliber WNBA guards, but none had a serious shot at making the USA Basketball Women’s National Team. For various reasons, Bird and Taurasi are still the foundation of the national team’s backcourt.
Fortunately for Team USA, they have more or less determined the guards who will replace Bird and Taurasi when they retire. The unfortunate reality for the American players, however, is that some very good players just aren’t going to have a chance to play for the United States national team.
Hartley isn’t just playing for a team that has little chance of advancing continentally or on the world stage, for that matter. France didn’t play particularly well in the FIBA World Cup, but they are still one of the strongest teams in Europe and should still be in great shape to make the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. If Hartley plays very well for France, she could have a shot at Olympic glory and simultaneously improve her WNBA game, as the Liberty will be looking to bounce back after a 7-27 regular season in 2018.