Lindsey Harding has taken a different path in order to compete at her first Olympic Games.

Born in Alabama and raised in Texas, the 32-year-old guard will represent Belarus at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, after taking citizenship in 2015.

A college basketball prodigy, Harding earned a National Player of the Year award in 2007 while playing for Duke University and was the No.1 pick in the WNBA draft the same year.

After just failing to make the cut for the USA women’s squad at the London 2012 Olympic Games, she played for Belarus at the European championships in 2015 and the women’s Olympic qualifying tournament in June 2016, leading the team statistics in scoring, assists and minutes on court in both tournaments.

Belarus are returning to the Olympic women’s basketball competition after failing to qualify for London 2012, and captain Nataliya Trafimaya has emphasised the importance of her teammate.

“She’s a great person and that is important for us on the court,” she said, after a training session on Tuesday. “Lindsey coming in to the team helped us open (the court) to our centre.

A veteran from the Beijing 2008 Games, where Belarus finished sixth, the veteran does not believe the ex-Duke guard is a controversial pick, despite having no previous ties with the nation. “She’s really like we are and we don’t feel opposite to her,” the captain said.

The Belarusians were the first women’s basketball team to arrive in Rio, although their star player has yet to join them as she is yet to finish her season with the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA.

“It’s not the first time Lindsey comes after we start practising so that is normal,” Trafimaya said. “She’ll be here soon enough so we can really focus on strategy (rather) than (physical) training.”

Belarus play their first game in Rio on Saturday 6 August against Japan in group B.s.

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