Duke has had 15 All-Americans since the late 1990s, but for the first time ever, a former Blue Devil will compete in the Olympics.
Lindsey Harding became the first former Duke player to accomplish the feat Sunday, scoring 17 points to lead Belarus to a 56-39 win against South Korea in Nantes, France, to punch her ticket to Rio de Janeiro in August. Belarus finished fifth in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying tournament, compiling a 3-2 record led by Harding and her 13.2 points per game.
“I'm so excited to be able to play in the Olympics,” Harding said in a press release. “This was a lifelong goal of mine and to be able to achieve it is a wonderful feeling. We worked so hard to get here and it has paid off. Rio here we come!”
Although Harding is the first player to qualify for the Olympics, former Blue Devil head coach Gail Goestenkors was an assistant coach for the United States in 2004. The U.S. has won five straight gold medals.
Harding was naturalized as a citizen of Belarus in September 2015 after earning National Player of the Year honors in her final season at Duke in 2007 and becoming the top overall pick in the 2007 WNBA Draft. Harding was playing for the WNBA's New York Liberty before qualifying with Belarus.
The former ACC Player of the Year helped Belarus to a 1-1 record in the qualifying tournament's group phase with a 84-70 win against Nigeria and a 66-65 loss to South Korea. Harding had 11 points and three assists in the contest against Nigeria and 13 points and seven assists in the team's first game against South Korea. All three teams in Belarus' group finished 1-1 in the group stage, but Belarus advanced thanks to its point differential.
Belarus fell 84-70 to China in the tournament's quarterfinal round, but Harding had her best game of the tournament, pouring in 22 points and six assists. Needing to win two consecutive games to qualify for the Olympics, Harding and her teammates delivered an 84-44 rout of Argentina—Harding had six points in limited action—before avenging their earlier loss to South Korea in Sunday's 56-39 win.
By finishing in fifth place, Belarus joined Spain, Turkey, France and China in qualifying for the Olympics at the event. The United States, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Senegal and Serbia had already qualified.
Harding also represented Belarus at EuroBasket Women 2015, averaging 5.3 assists per game as her team finished fourth. She is one of only two players in Duke's program history to have her jersey retired.
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