NEW YORK (AP) - New York Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince will miss perhaps the first month of the WNBA season to try to help Russia qualify for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It was something I was committed to do,” Prince said. “I want to help them get back to where they used to be.”
The 27-year-old Brooklyn native played for the Russian national team two years ago, trying to help it earn a spot in the 2014 world championship. Russia didn’t make it.
“That was frustrating that we didn’t qualify, but I know we have a good chance this time,” said Prince. “I play in the winter with a lot of their national team players so we know each other much better now.”
She has a chance to be the second American-born player to play for Russia’s national team in the Olympics. Becky Hammon played in the last two Olympics for Russia and also the 2010 world championship. Prince became a naturalized citizen in 2010.
Prince, who was traded to the Liberty in February, was upset that her debut with her hometown team would have to wait.
“I’m sad I’m going to miss playing here. This will be the first time I’m able to play in a Liberty jersey in front of my family and friends,” she said. “But I’ll have many more chances.”
The Liberty knew when they acquired Prince for Cappie Pondexter that their new guard would miss a month.
“It’s a long-term thing, not a short-term thing,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said of acquiring Prince. “She’ll be a really good player for us. She wants to be in New York. We’ll muddle through the 10 games, get her back and see what we got.”
Prince is one of a handful of players, who will be playing in the Eurobasket tournament, which runs from June 11-28. Kristi Toliver (Slovakia), Shavonte Zellous (Croatia), Celine Dumerc (France) and Anna Cruz (Spain) are a few others who will miss WNBA games.
Toliver, Cruz and Dumerc are already with their national teams. Prince leaves on Friday and Zellous will head out from Indiana Fever training camp soon.
“I wanted to be with the team as much as I could before I headed overseas,” Prince said.
Next month’s Eurobasket won’t be the only tournament forcing players to miss WNBA games. Fever forward Natalie Achonwa will play for Canada in the Pan-Am Games and the FIBA America qualifiers this summer. She missed her rookie season last year while recovering from an ACL tear. She was excited for the chance to play again for her country.
“It’s always great to have an opportunity to represent Canada,” said Achonwa in April when she was the director of basketball operations for her alma mater Notre Dame. “The fact that both the tournaments this summer are in Canada makes it even more special.”
The teams and the WNBA have the option to fine the players for the time they missed.
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