3x3 Athletes Ready For Competition To Get Underway
The United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, welcomed an influx of basketball athletes from around the country this weekend, as check-in procedures for the 2017 USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournaments took place in Sports Center 1 on Friday.
A window for team shoot arounds occurred mid-day, giving the athletes an opportunity to become familiar with their surroundings and the gym setups.
It was a loose atmosphere, featuring some one-on-one play, and a myriad of shooting drills across the campus’ courts. Selfies were snapped from all corners of the gyms by new athletes and those from the past who are simply excited to be on the training center grounds and the USA 3x3 National Tournament stage.
Returners such as Jamaal Womack of team NYC is ready to hit the hardwood with experience from the 2016 USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournament in his back pocket.
“We’re more familiar with this situation, and the guys we’re playing against. The whole setup – checking in, getting comfortable, getting into your right frame of mind – I definitely feel more at ease this year having been through the process last year.
“It’s going to be good competition. The men’s open is always good competition. Last year, the champions from Chicago and the other New York City team that went to the championship – those were eight great players. I don’t expect anything different this time.”
For Austin Madison of Bliss, the open gym period gave him and his teammates the opportunity to sneak a peek at some of the competition.
“Just getting here and seeing the other players, and seeing the size we’ll be going against, you can tell i’s going to be competitive. It already brings on the excitement for the games when you see the facilities and other players getting ready,” he said.
Kavon Lytch, who was a member of the 2016 USA Basketball 3x3 World Championship Team that won a historic silver medal at the FIBA 3x3 Worlds, is playing for Harlem this go-around, and square off against his World Championship teammates from this past year, in 2016 USA Basketball 3x3 National Champions Myke Henry and Alfonzo McKinnie of 3BALL Premier.
“It’s a great feeling. I represented the country one time, and I’m trying to do it again. We have a good group of guys, so hopefully we can get it done,” said Lytch, who finished as a runner-up this past August, but was called up, due to an injury on Henry and McKinnie’s team, at the 3x3 World Championship.
There is extra motivation for the men as the top finishing team has the opportunity to represent USA Basketball at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, held June XX-XX (check dates) in Nantes, France.
On the women’s open side, nine teams will vie for the prize, including six teams from the Pac-12 Conference. The field is loaded with familiar faces for the west coast teams, but the environment and the game has entirely changed.
“It’s big time right now. This is a special place and there are a lot of special athletes that come out here, so it’s an honor to be here,” said Washington State Cougars’ Alexys Swedlund. “We know a lot of girls playing, but we’re here to have fun and we’ll see what happens, but we’ll enjoy the experience.”
University of Southern California athlete Valerie Higgins, who won a gold medal with the 2016 USA U18 Women’s National Team is happy to be back in Colorado Springs, and values her experience from the international level as she leads the Trojans into this tournament.
“I think just being here before in Colorado and playing here, kind of knowing what it takes to make one of these teams. There’s a lot of great competition and only working in the gym and working out can prepare you for that,” said Higgins.
Flipping over to the U18 women’s division, eight teams will duke it out for the title, with the winners crowned the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 World Cup Team, which will represent the United States at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup, played June 28-July 2 in Chengdu, China.
Bounce Back boasts three players from the 2016 USA Basketball U17 World Championship team that won a bronze medal, but it’s Elite Force, among others, gunning for the top spot in its second-consecutive national tournament appearance. Cierra Winters, an Air Force Academy commit, is competing in her third USA 3x3 National Tournament, while teammate Dixie Lainhart is back for a second time.
“I, personally, am really motivated to play a lot harder,” Lainhart said. “We know what it’s like to be here. It’s a lot different from practice and other tournaments when you come to this facility and play against these teams, but we’re excited to compete again this year.”
Rounding out the eventful weekend of tournaments is the U18 men’s division, comprised of nine teams from six states. The defending U18 3x3 national champions, Ballerz, from El Paso, Texas, are back and looking to lift the trophy once again.
Hoopla, though, is the oldest team in the U18 tournament, and will look to knock Ballerz off the top seat, led by a pair of college signees with 3x3 experience – Zachary Reichle to Oregon State University and Zac Woodworth to the University of Oregon.
“It’s helpful because you know the rules. You know the speed of the game. You have that experience and you know what you need to do. Just knowing how to play the game, because it’s definitely a different game than 5-on-5, so that’s an advantage in itself,” said Reichle.
“This is where a lot of amazing athletes train. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to come here and compete, so it’s really cool to be here.”
It’s that way for just about every team – whether members boast USA Basketball five-on-five or 3x3 national tournament experience, or not, the players are simply excited to be in Colorado Springs. And it’s not just a vacation for them. The 152 athletes here have the same goal, to win, and hold the title of 2017 USA Basketball 3x3 national champions.
The competition begins Saturday morning and after Saturday’s games each team will be seeded for Sunday’s knockout round. The championship games in each of the four divisions will be streamed live at usab.com/live beginning at 1:30 pm EDT.