VCU made waves in 2004 when it signed an unknown 15-year-old from Chesapeake, Virginia named Quanitra Hollingsworth. The 6-foot-5 center, who skipped two grades in middle school, made her debut for the Rams a year later as the nation’s youngest player. She became more than a fascination. Hollingsworth led VCU to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2009 and became the No. 9 overall pick of that year’s WNBA Draft. Her jersey is one of three retired by VCU. She’s won championships in Europe and played in the 2012 Olympics in London for Turkey. Hollingsworth is still just 26 years old.
This summer, following a one-year WNBA hiatus to fulfill commitments to the Turkish National Team, Hollingsworth returned to the WNBA with the Seattle Storm. She’s averaging 3.7 points and 3.2 rebounds off the bench for the Storm this season, but Hollingsworth, who is fascinated by computers and cuisine, has always been about more than basketball.
We recently caught up with the 2009 VCU graduate.
CK: How’s it feel to be back in the WNBA?
QH: It’s good. I obviously haven’t played back at home in quite a few years, and to just be able to play in front of so many of my friends and family, it’s good because it’s definitely not something you get overseas.
CK: How does the game overseas compare with the WNBA?
QH: Over there game a little slower and more structured, probably less athletic with more shooters more fundamentals. Over here it’s more athletic. Everyone is the best of the best. Sometimes overseas you meet a team or some players that aren’t on the same level.
CK: There’s good money to be made overseas, compared to what most WNBA players make. I’m assuming coming back wasn’t really a question of economics.
QH: For me, I simply wanted to be back in America this summer. I play against most of these players overseas, so I can’t say I was missing the competition, but to be back home is important to me.
CK: How is Seattle treating you?
QH: I’m actually enjoying it. The only thing I was concerned about was the weather, but the weather has been beautiful.
CK: Between your Turkish National Team commitments, the WNBA and European ball, do you ever take a break?
QH: There’s no such thing as an offseason unless you decide not to play. I think as long as you’re taking care of your body, you’re fine. Mentally, it doesn’t get as exhausting as people expect because if you love this, it’s not going to be as draining.
CK: You played for Turkey in the 2012 Olympics. How would you characterize that experience?
QH: In some ways it was overwhelming, but it was like I was dreaming. You’re in the same place with all of the best athletes from every sport in the world. Even some of the best players never make it to the Olympics.
CK: You got a number of questions about your decision to attain dual citizenship to play for Turkey in the 2012 Olympics.
QH: Obviously I was getting this question a lot in 2012. The players understand it’s a career choice. It’s not, oh, you’re disloyal to America. To me, it wasn’t that. For me it was like working for Microsoft and going to work for Apple. It was a career choice and the opportunity of a lifetime. In the game against the United States I kind of felt like I was going to throw up early on, but then I just played basketball. In recent years it’s become more common. It’s kind of the norm now.
Note: Current Spurs Assistant Coach Becky Hammon is among those who have taken this path. Hammon played for Russian in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
CK: Your parents were both in the Navy. How did they take the decision?
QH: That’s an interesting fact. They fully supported me. They have come to visit me overseas a number of times. It wasn’t, oh, you’re Turkish now. As long as I’m a respectable human being, they’re fine with it.
CK: You’ve played practically all over the world, and I’ve noticed on social media that you seem to enjoy local cuisine. Would you go as far to call yourself a “foodie”?
QH: I don’t think I was the first to label myself as that. I probably started calling myself a foodie 2-3 years ago. It’s kind of something that stuck. I have a true passion for that.
CK: What are some of your favorites?
QH: Most of my friends joke because I love everything. If I’m in a country and they have some kind of authentic cuisine, I’m going to try it. I will say that I love Mediterranean cuisine.
CK: Any weird food choices over the years?
QH: Certain things, they’re not weird if you’re willing to try them. Most people won’t try eel, and I’m like, ‘Why won’t you try it’? Frog. Alligator. People eat it, so why won’t you try it? Eel wasn’t bad, but I don’t remember it having a distinct taste. It had a different texture.
CK: Now we know you can eat, but can you cook?
QH: I can cook well enough to survive. I’m not awful, better than average.
CK: Your livelihood hinges on your ability to stay fit. How careful do you have to be with the foodie thing?
QH: I think it’s only when I come home to the States that I have to be really careful. It’s like (VCU Strength and Conditioning Coach) Tim Kontos taught me. It’s the 90/10 rule. As long as you do what you’re supposed to do 90 percent of the time, you’re going to be okay.
CK: How’s the food in Seattle stack up?
QH: The food is great here. It’s pretty much anything you can imagine. It’s pretty much like being in New York. I’ve had Japanese, Chinese, Indian. I even went to a soul food spot. I’ve had authentic Mexican.
CK: Since I first met you in 2005, when you were 16, you were already talking about how you wanted to travel around Europe (Hollingsworth has played in Turkey, Hungary, Russia and Latvia) and experience culture. Is this the dream for you?
QH: It is, in a sense. Growing up, I never saw myself playing basketball professionally. I always thought I would be behind a computer.