Former Alabama High School Player of the Year playing basketball for Serbia at the Olympics

By Teresa M. Walker, AP Sports Writer

SAITAMA, Japan – Yvonne Anderson knew that playing in the Olympics for the United States was a long shot at best. In reality, that was probably never going to happen.

Yet the Arkansas native is here at the Tokyo Games and living her Olympic dream – with Serbia.

“As an American you really can’t consider it if you’re not WNBA, if you’re not in the top 12 in the United States,” Anderson said. “It’s a long list of players there.”

Anderson has a connection to Alabama.

Anderson was chosen as Alabama State 6A Player of the Year in 2006, when she was in second year at Hoover High School. His father, Mike Anderson, was the head coach of the University of Alabama Birmingham men’s basketball team at the time. He is now head coach at St. John’s University.

Anderson isn’t the only basketball player to take this alternate route to the Olympics. Becky Hammon is perhaps the best-known player to achieve her Olympic dreams outside of her home country.

A FIBA ​​rule allows countries to enter players with dual nationality or a player who becomes a naturalized citizen. Several Tokyo Games players are taking advantage of the rule, including former UConn striker Gabby Williams, whose mother is French, plays for France. Astou Ndour, born in Senegal, went to Spain to play basketball and became a Spanish citizen in 2011.

Nigeria’s roster is filled with players who honed their game in American colleges and now represent their parent’s country.

“My whole family is Nigerian, I’m Nigerian,” said guard Adaora Elonu, who helped Texas A&M win a national championship in 2011.

It wasn’t all that clear for 2016 WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams of Atlanta Dream. They have dual US-Nigerian citizenship. FIBA rejected their request because the two had spent too much time on the US national program before asking for a change.

Nneka’s sister, Erica Ogwumike, is on the list with dual citizenship from parents Peter and Ify, whose three daughters were born after immigrating to the United States. Americans since the Athens 2004 semi-finals.

Anderson, 31, is at the Tokyo Games as the only naturalized Serbian citizen – similar to a free agent in many ways. Serbian Marina Maljkovic coached Anderson in a Turkish league, and the Serbian national team coach wanted to know if Anderson would play if the small country qualified for its second Olympics.

“It’s a team where you can become a part and you’re going to help build something or carry on a legacy,” said Anderson, daughter of St. John’s men’s coach Mike Anderson. “For me that was an easy yes.”

It meant paperwork for the Springdale, Arkansas-born custody, adding Serbian citizenship to her US passport. The application started in January 2020 was delayed for a few months by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 5-foot-9 point guard who played in Texas worked to learn the language of her new co-country; it is still a work in progress.

“It’s a whole different sound, completely different accents,” Anderson said. “But if you want to be part of the culture of the country, you have to show respect. you need to start learning some basics. I’m trying to grow up, but it’s a challenge.

Williams had no problems with paperwork and language to make France’s list. The UConn star has been of French nationality since birth.

“It’s a dream for me to play for my team, my mother’s country and to be an Olympian,” said Williams, who was traded by the Chicago Sky from the WNBA to the Los Angeles Sparks because she made the Olympics a top priority. play in the league this year.

A key number for any player wishing to play for a national team is 17.

Before a player turns 17, anyone who has played for a national team needs permission from both national groups to change. After 17 years, this is only possible if the FIBA ​​General Secretary specifically commits to helping develop basketball in the new country.

It’s not a new option, but it has momentarily taken center stage because of the Ogwumikes.

Diana Taurasi can see both sides of the argument.

Taurasi, whose parents left Argentina for the United States, hopes to leave Japan with his fifth Olympic gold medal. Asked about Nneka Ogwumike, Taurasi said her fellow WNBA star had worn the US jersey a lot in international competitions.

Then Taurasi added, “I guess if they come from there, it’s cool.”

Most would agree, being an Olympian is cool.


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