USA Women Out For Redemption At FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup
All four members of the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 World Cup Team are on a mission to replace the taste of bronze medals with something more precious. Janelle Bailey (Providence Day School/Matthews, N.C.), Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s H.S./Sacramento, Calif.), Christyn Williams (Central Arkansas Christian School/Little Rock, Ark.) and Destiny Littleton (The Bishop’s School/San Diego, Calif.) have their sights set on winning a gold medal at the 2017 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup June 28-July 2 in Chengdu, China.
“It’s definitely a daily thought,” said Bailey, who earned a bronze medal at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship this past summer in Spain, alongside DeCosta and Williams. “That’s why we named our team Bounce Back for the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament, because we knew what we wanted to bounce back from. How it feels now, how it felt then, we don’t want to feel that again. It’s going to be a daily thing and one day at a time from here on out. It’s about getting better every day and being ready for the tournament.
“We all have bronze medals. We want to get a gold medal around our necks.”
Littleton finished with a bronze medal at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship two summers ago in Mexico, and DeCosta joined her on that team as well.
Those were traditional, five-on-five teams, which 3x3 is not. In 3x3, there are four players per team, including one substitute, and they play in a half court, with the winner being the first team to 21 points or the leading team after 10 minutes.
“I think the number one way I want them to play is physical. That is what I think has been is a consistent message of mine, is we need to be very physical,” said U.S. coach Kara Lawson, who know all about winning gold having played for 11 USA Basketball teams, including the gold-medal winning 2008 U.S. Olympic Team. “The rules and the international style lend themselves to the most physical team creating an advantage, really on every possession. It makes it difficult for the offense to cut, to score, to move. Being able to handle that physicality and still make layups and finish and also having the composure and the toughness and just the focus that you have to have when you are playing in a physical game. Those things are hard to do. What you try and do is create this environment in practice where they are being challenged in all of those ways and see how they respond. Are they successful? Do they struggle? And then, being able to expose where they are struggling and get them to see in what areas they need to be better.”
Lawson is guiding training camp in the San Francisco area through June 25, but she will be in the stands during the USA’s games. In 3x3 basketball, a coach is not allowed. She will be able to guide the team before and after games, but not during. That means the players have to be prepared to react and respond themselves during the competition.
The team has some experience together, winning all seven of its games at the 2017 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament this past April, which qualified the squad to represent the USA at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup.
“We are getting some chemistry as a team,” said Bailey. “We were together in April, trying to win in order to get to this position. Now, it’s about developing chemistry and improving our basketball IQ. Eventually, when we play games, we won’t have a coach to help us out. Our scrimmages are definitely helping us. We are making mistakes, and we would prefer to make those mistakes now than at the tournament. We are getting a lot of reps and expanding our IQ, so when we get to the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup, we know exactly what to do.”
The USA does not have a lot of time to prepare, in fact it will have just eight practices over four days before departing for China on June 25.
“What I like the most about this team is how dedicated they are to trying to grasp how we need to play in order to win,” Lawson said. “It’s just such a different game, with the rules, and the pace and the strategy. That I think is where I’m most impressed – how eager they are to learn and to try and put into practice what I’ve been teaching them.”
Some extra motivation was sprinkled on top for the U.S. players when the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board announced on June 9 its decision to add men's and women's 3x3 basketball as part of the Olympic program starting with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“When it came out that 3x3 is going to be an Olympic sport, it made us feel like we are doing something groundbreaking,” said Bailey. “It’s cool for us to be a part of, and maybe be a part of in the future. We are really ready to play.”
The USA will open against Hungary at 5:30 a.m. (all times listed are EDT) and then play Japan at 7:25 a.m. on June 29. It will wrap up preliminary round play against Switzerland at 6:05 a.m. and Australia at 7:40 a.m. on July 1. The top two finishing teams from each of the four preliminary round groups will advance to the quarterfinals on July 2. The semifinals and finals also will be played on July 2.
“I’m so thrilled to be here and to get an opportunity to be a part of this experience with the players,” Lawson said. “One of my most memorable times as a player was being a part of USA Basketball when I was 17, and I remember how impactful that trip was on me and how many great memories I have of it. That’s what I want for them. I want them to be able to look back on this and say, ‘I learned a lot. I had so much fun. I was so thrilled to represent my country.’ I want them to be able to win a gold medal. All of our players have not won a gold medal. I want to be a part of a group that is experiencing that for the first time. I think that would be really cool.”
With four players and a short game, the USA is not able to wear opponents out with its depth as easily as it often does in international, five-on-five basketball. Still, in five FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cups, USA Basketball women's teams have captured two gold medals, two silver medals and an honorary bronze medal in 2011, while compiling a 35-7 record.
“It requires a lot of thinking during the game,” Bailey said. “Sometimes in five-on-five, players can hide. You can’t hide in 3x3. It’s one-on-one basketball, not a lot of help defense. You have to be able to show your whole offensive arsenal. You get exposed, whether it’s in a good way or a bad way.”
Watch all of the USA’s games live on YouTube/3x3planet.