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With Aces, veteran Hayes free to pursue all her interests

Tiffany Hayes has been negotiating international basketball, her passions and the WNBA for nearly 10 years.

That balancing act led to her retirement from the league, a decision that stood for all of a few months, until she signed with the Aces at the end of May.

At the time, the former All-Star’s statement mentioned gratitude that the back-to-back defending champions were “willing to work with me as I am diving headfirst into a new era in my life.”

Now, she’s one of the Aces’ five Olympians set to compete this summer, and she feels the team has supported her professional and personal equilibrium.

“I’m getting to do a lot of the things that I was once missing out on while still playing,” Hayes said before facing the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday. “It’s been good to finally realize that I don’t have to be in a box.”

FIBA officially announced Thursday that Hayes would be representing Azerbaijan as part of the nation’s 3x3 Olympic team in Paris. She’ll join Alexandra Mollenhauer, Dina Ulyanova and Marcedes Walker in Azerbaijan’s first 3x3 appearance at the Olympics.

Hayes’ relationship with Azerbaijan began in 2015 while she was playing for the Atlanta Dream. The team announced midseason that she and Aneika Henry would miss five games to compete at the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. They gained Azerbaijani citizenship to play in the 3-on-3 basketball competition, and were temporarily suspended from the league while they were overseas.

It was one of many times that Hayes would need to juggle exciting opportunities.

The 5-foot-10-inch guard said she was stepping away from the WNBA in December via the Counted Me Out Podcast, explaining that she would still play overseas for at least five seasons, but she wanted to have summers free to “move on to other things.”

She used her time away from the league to focus on developing her own headphones and clothing company called Mindzet, along with a fashion brand called Seyah Renara. The name was born from her last name spelled backwards, paired with her real first name.

She also played in China for the Shanghai Swordfish, averaging more than 20 points per game.

Hayes spent her first 10 seasons in the WNBA with the Dream, before joining the Connecticut Sun for what could have been her final season.

With the Aces, Hayes isn’t forced to forgo her other interests.

She missed the team’s recent win over the Indiana Fever to show her fashion brand at Miami Swim Week.

It was a prior commitment, but the team didn’t make her feel bad about it.

“I’m trying not to bring back past feelings of things that have happened with other organizations. It’s so different,” Hayes said Friday.

“I almost have to catch myself by saying, ‘I’m sorry about this. I don’t have to do that.’ And (the Aces) are like, ‘No, go. We want you to succeed. We want you to do this. We know that you’re going to come and do your job.’ ”

Hayes is averaging 8.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 12 appearances this season, including two starts.

Hayes led Azerbaijan to its Olympic berth in April at the qualifying event in Hong Kong. She was named MVP of the 3×3 tournament after averaging a team-high 6.5 points per game, a healthy number for a 10-minute-long half-court game that only goes up to 21.

This summer, she said she’ll be bolstered by Azerbaijan’s excitement about the Olympics. She hasn’t been able to spend much time there, as most of the tournaments she has participated in for the nation have been in other countries. Still, she feels embraced.

“They just welcomed me with such open arms, and they support our team like I’ve never seen before,” Hayes said. “It just makes me feel so connected to them. And it’s been fun, kind of learn a little bit about that culture every time we get to be together with them. So I’ll get to do a lot more of that while we’re in Paris.”

Her balancing act will continue in Paris as well, as she’s considering hosting a pop-up event for her clothing line while she’s there.

Contact Callie Lawson-Freeman at clawsonfreeman@reviewjournal.com. Follow @CallieJLaw on X.

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