Nation’s Best 3x3 Basketball Players Take to the Court This Weekend Under Las Vegas Sun
The 3x3 national championships will take place outdoors for the first time ever
Playing 3x3 with a small group of friends on the playground, out by the barn or in a back alley somewhere is the kind of thing just about any basketball fan can relate to.
Shoveling snow off the court. Fighting through wind and rain. Earning each bucket in the heat of the summer sun. It is how many were introduced and first fell in love with the game.
"Playing outside is kind of exciting and it’s nostalgic. It brings back childhood memories. It brings back that childhood feeling of when we were playing basketball just for fun, not really for money or as a job."
Dozens of elite men’s and women’s players gathered in Las Vegas this weekend will get a taste of those days once again as they compete in the 2019 Red Bull USA Basketball 3x3 Nationals. The eighth edition of the tournament is open and free to the public and will be held for the first time outdoors at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.
Competition begins Friday afternoon with preliminary games (10 minutes in length), which continue into Saturday for both the men and women. The knockout rounds begin late Saturday afternoon and champions will be decided by the end of the night.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Xavier Silas, who has previous NBA, NBA G League and USA Basketball experience on his resume following a college career at Northern Illinois University and the University of Colorado. “Me and some of the guys were talking and we haven’t really played outside since maybe high school and a lot of us have been out for a long time. So, playing outside is kind of exciting and it’s nostalgic. It brings back childhood memories. It brings back that childhood feeling of when we were playing basketball just for fun, not really for money or as a job.”
The national tournament not only serves as the 3x3 national championship but also as the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s and Women’s 3x3 National Team trials. Eligible athletes will be in consideration for selection to the 2019 USA Men’s 3x3 World Cup team and men’s and women’s U.S. Pan American Games 3x3 teams.
The women’s competition includes teams representing 13 select NCAA Division I programs with four players per team. It also features three teams that won qualifying tournaments and two teams of players who were invited individually and participated in a minicamp, including 2017 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year Janelle Bailey (North Carolina/Charlotte, N.C.).
Bailey already has a track record of success in the 3x3 game, having helped lead the 2017 USA U18 National Team to the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup gold medal. She said playing outside is going to be a unique experience, but she focuses on other things she believes are integral to winning.
“I think it’s communication on and off the court because there is just four of you and not everyone is out there and you don’t have a coach out there,” Bailey said. “So, everybody being vocal and I think being honest and knowing personnel. I think knowing personnel and being vocal are the top two things that can win a championship because if you can trust your teammates and be honest with them and know what they do best, then it will take you far.”
The 2018 national champion on the men’s side is back to defend its title. The Ariel Slow & Steady team consists of Robbie Hummel (Purdue/Valparaiso, Ind.), Damon Huffman (Brown/Seattle, Wash.), Kareem Maddox (Princeton/Los Angeles, Calif.) and Dan Mavraides (Princeton/Los Angeles, Calif.).
The University of Oregon team won the women’s national title in 2018 and the school is represented once again this year with returning champions Otiona Gildon (Spokane, Wash.), Ruthy Hebard (Fairbanks, Alaska) and Sabrina Ionescu (Walnut Creek, Calif.) joined by Lydia Giomi (Seattle, Wash.).
Silas said the 3x3 game is surprisingly physical and players have to be physically ready for the test of as many as nine 10-minute games in approximately 36 hours. He said what makes players and teams successful is really no different in 3x3 than the standard game.
“I think it’s just the two or three things that are always a common denominator when it comes to winning basketball games,” Silas said. “It’s playing hard, playing smart and playing tough. Playing hard and playing tough are two completely different things, especially in this 3x3 deal.
“We were watching some film on Serbia and Poland and it’s a very physical game and you have to be tough to be successful. You have to be smart and you have to play hard the entire 10 minutes.”
While USA Basketball teams often dominate in the standard 5-on-5 game in international competition for both men and women, they have found the competition much more fierce in the 3x3 game.
The games this week in Las Vegas will be played on wood courts because many of the players involved are used to the playing surface, but those who want to move on and play internationally in 3x3 for USA Basketball will eventually have to play on sport court surfaces used by FIBA, said USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development Director Jay Demings.
Demings said 3x3 basketball is seeing impressive growth. It’s fun to watch with games featuring 12-second shot clocks, only one timeout per team and no coaching allowed. It really places the burdens of decision-making on players and teams collectively.
“I think the excitement around it is that it’s just a more fun way to play the game,” Demings said. “It’s faster-paced. It’s continuous play. So you don’t score and check the ball, you score and keep playing. I think the excitement of 3x3 puts the game back into the players’ hands.”