USA Men’s 3x3 World Cup Team Seeks Success From Long Range
Was any of it imaginable, even just a year ago? Probably not. But, here we are. Here they are.
They is the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s 3x3 World Cup Team, made up of Zahir Carrington (Lehigh/Philadelphia, Pa.), Damon Huffman (Brown/Petosky, Mich.), Daniel Mavraides (Princeton/Los Angeles, Calif.) and Craig Moore (Northwestern/Doylestown, Pa.).
The foursome has its eyes set on the 2017 FIBA 3x3 World Cup, which will be played June 17-21, in Nantes, France, at a time when the buzz surrounding 3x3 basketball, with the June 9 announcement of 3x3’s addition to the 2020 Olympic Games, is at an all-time high.
“This is a such a big step for 3x3 basketball,” exclaimed Huffman. “It’s the first major tournament right after its inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, and we are the one’s wearing the jersey that says USA.”
Huffman admits though, he didn’t imagine this team would be in this position, journeying to France to represent USA Basketball.
“This whole thing is surreal in its own way. We played college basketball and played overseas as well, but we haven’t really had the competitive fire to this level, and I think that getting ready for this tournament, it’s sparking up those real reasons we all love basketball, again,” Huffman said.
“Having this opportunity to play basketball again and play at such a competitive level, it feels really good.”
Amidst the social media chatter of current professionals and NBA superstars potentially sporting USA jerseys in the 3x3 arena, it should be known Huffman and company are stars of their own sort, playing a game that isn’t run-of-the-mill, playground 3x3.
Moore, who was a two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection at Northwestern and has 320 career 3-pointers to his name – the fourth most in Big Ten history – knows the scope of 3x3 better than just about anyone.
“Having played in Russia in 2014 (FIBA 3x3 World Championship), one of the things I can communicate to the guys is just how much more physical they play in Europe, as opposed to here,” said Moore, who was a member of the 2014 USA Basketball 3x3 World Championship Team, and also played two professional seasons in the Netherlands and Romania.
“I think our game in America has become more physical after playing over in Europe, but I want them to know the game is played with a little bit more holding, a little bit more physicality overall.”
Moore’s experience should be beneficial to the USA squad. The Big Ten’s top 3-point shooter from 2008 and 2009, Moore labels the game as a “10-minute sprint,” and said the team has done well to stay in game mode, despite being apart for segments of the last two months.
A group text, Moore said, has kept the team in contact while being in various locations, helping everyone stay on top of strategies and workouts.
Unlike the silver medal-winning 2016 USA Men’s 3x3 World Championship Team, which featured two NBA D-League players in Myke Henry and Alfonzo McKinnie, along with Stefhon Hannah, who has played across the European leagues, this team features zero current professionals.
But, that means very little to them. Their basketball history, Moore noted, is what has brought them together in the here and now.
Carrington played at Lehigh University from 2006-10, scoring 1,260 points in his four-year career with the Mountain Hawks. Carrington and Moore linked up years ago in New York City.
At Brown University, Huffman was the 2005 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and earned All-Ivy League honors his junior and senior seasons, averaging 14.7 and 14.9 points per game, respectively. He continued his basketball career in Belgium for three years, before landing in the Netherlands and England for a season. Huffman and Moore know one another from their collegiate playing days.
And, Mavraides starred at Princeton University from 2007-11, starting 82 of his 97 career games and averaging 10.9 ppg. and 3.8 rpg. His professional career took him to Italy and Greece for two years. He knows Moore from his time as an assistant coach at Princeton in 2011.
Piece-by-piece, the four didn’t come together as one team until the 2017 USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournament, which took place April 8-9 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We’ve played with each other in duos and trios at different times for a long time now, but this group of four has only been together since April,” said Mavraides.
The separation of living and working in different cities, along with forming a team so recently poses a series of challenges, stated by both Huffman and Mavraides.
“We have to trust each other,” said Huffman. “A lot of people think 3x3 basketball is about your one-on-one skills, but I think we take a different approach. We’re team first, and I think that comes down to making the extra pass, shooting when you’re open, defending and communicating well with your team from the very beginning.”
Some new offensive pieces were inserted during training camp, but the time together, in one place, has benefitted the team the most.
“We’ve been working on different sets and getting as much time playing live, at full speed, as possible,” said Mavraides. “This is when you really learn to rely on your teammates, to make sure they will be there to help you.”
“It’s a different approach than the tradition 5-on-5 game,” added Huffman. “For one, you don’t have a coach, and you don’t have one on the sideline that can call timeouts for you. A lot of it comes down to being smart players and having the ability to make adjustments in game.
“You really have to be smart, you have to be able to adjust on the fly, and you have to absorb the way you prepare for this game, because it is different.”
They are known as Team Stars and Stripes on the Dew NBA 3X Tour, winning the first stop of the 2017 slate in Chicago on May 14.
It was their second successful run in a month’s time, after they drilled 10 shots from beyond the arc in the USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournament title game.
Long-range shooting is their strong-suit, said Huffman, and they plan to stick to their guns in France.
“That’s how we structured our team. From a strategy basis, the value of twos versus ones – it’s double,” Huffman explained. “In the normal five-on-five game, it’s not that way. It puts a premium on shooting the ball from the outside, and we have three guys on this team that can stroke it.”
And, that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“We are confident in the way we shoot the ball and we’re confident in how we can execute our plays,” said Mavraides.
“We really believe we can control the tempo of every game, and if we can stay ahead of that to make sure we control the pace and run our stuff, we can be successful against anyone.”
“For the whole world, I think it’s important to have a nice tournament, in general, with a lot of entertainment and good, quality, 3x3 basketball, so we can show that 3x3 is here to stay and that 3x3 deserves to be in the Olympics,” said Moore.
“Obviously, we would love to show a great performance and prove that USA Basketball has a real shot in 2020 to take home the gold in the Olympics.”
Drawn into Group D in the 20-nation competition, the USA’s first test will come against the Netherlands on Saturday, June 17, at 10:30 a.m. EDT, followed by a matchup with Indonesia at 11:40 a.m. Preliminary round play for the USA concludes on Monday, June 19, against New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.
The two finishing teams in each of the four preliminary round groups will advance to the June 21 medal round quarterfinals, with those winners advancing to the semifinals and finals on June 21 as well.
All games will be streamed through the FIBA YouTube channel at YouTube.com/FIBA.