Former VCU star Quanitra Hollingworth (left) will try to lead Turkey to the 2012 Olympics in London this summer.

Quanitra Hollingsworth has always been a few years ahead of her peers. Not just in the classroom, where she skipped two years of middle school, not just on the basketball court, where she was dominant, but the way she approached life.

Even as a 16-year-old redshirt freshman at VCU during the 2005-06 season, she was already talking about more adult ventures like traveling Europe and seeing the world. Basketball was never her station in life. It was her vehicle.

“Everyone always assumes the WNBA was my big dream. I could’ve cared less about the WNBA until I was a senior in college,” Hollingsworth, 24, said. “I always wanted to learn about other countries. I didn’t want to be placed in a box. I wanted to experience everything.”

As if playing professionally in Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary the last three years wasn’t enough, Hollingsworth, who is also a member of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, has decided to take her European immersion to another level.

Hollingsworth was recently granted Turkish citizenship, a step that allowed her to become a member of the Turkish National Team ahead of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. On the heels of a Hungarian Championship with Uni Seat Gyor last month, Hollingsworth is set to depart for Istanbul on May 12 for the Turkish National Team’s training camp.

From there, the Turks will move to the 12-team Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey June 25-July 1. Five teams among the field that includes Argentina, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Japan, Korea, Mali, Mozambique, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Turkey will advance to London. Seven other countries, including the United States, have already qualified.

As much as this is an advancement of Hollingsworth’s European adventure, it’s also a business arrangement. While Hollingsworth declined to discuss whether or not she will be paid by Turkey, there are other obvious benefits. By becoming a Turkish citizen, Hollingsworth can bypass a rule that exists in many European leagues that limits the number of American players a team can sign. It gives Hollingsworth, as well as her prospective employers, greater flexibility.

Hollingsworth says Turkish officials targeted her, as well as several others, during Euroleague play this year. She said that Hungary approached her with a similar offer. Such arrangements are not without precedent. Epiphany Prince and Becky Hammon (Russia) are recent examples.

“At this point in my life and at this level, everyone sees it for what it is. It’s a business move on my part and a business move on their part,” Hollingsworth said. “Now I’ll be seen as one of, if not the best European center. Before, I was in the top five or top 10 American centers. It puts me in another bracket.”

But make no mistake. Hollingsworth believes in Turkey and wants to make history.

Hollingsworth has won professional European championships in Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania.

“I’m really excited. This is the biggest stage possible,” she said. “To get [to the Olympics] would be a great accomplishment and an honor. I’m going to do everything in my power to get there.”

While she’s comfortable moving forward, Hollingsworth admits there were a few hurdles along the way. First, she will miss the first half of the WNBA season. After spending her first two seasons buried at the end of the bench in Minnesota, Hollingsworth was traded to the Liberty prior to last season and developed into a vital reserve, averaging 4.6 points and 4.4 rebounds a game.

“I found a great home in New York,” Hollingsworth said. “I knew this could be a big year for the team and myself, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. After talking to my agent, other players and our coaches, they said this was a bigger opportunity.”

The WNBA has a scheduled break for the Olympics from July 14-Aug. 15, and the Liberty expect Hollingsworth back in time for the second half of the season.

The other hard part was breaking the news to her parents, both U.S. Navy veterans.

“They’re excited,” she said. “I was nervous to tell them at first, but they never questioned my loyalty. They were happy for me.”

With her affairs in order, Hollingsworth is ready to lead Turkey to London. Turkey has never qualified for the Olympics and is ranked 21st in the world by FIBA, but finished second to Russia in 2011 at the European Women’s Basketball Championship, it’s highest ever. Turkey was also aggressive in targeting players like Hollingsworth to nationalize and bolster its squad. For those reasons, Hollingsworth believes the Olympic dream is within reach.

“That’s the goal,” she said. “The team they have now definitely can and should get there. Once we get there, we definitely plan on making some noise.”

Quanitra Hollingsworth starred at VCU from 2005-2009 and led the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament bid in 2009. She ranks third on VCU’s all-time scoring list (1,604) and second in rebounds (1,114). Her jersey is one of just three to be retired by the program.

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