Growth Of 3x3 Game On Display As National Champions Crowned In Downtown Las Vegas
Ahead of 2020 Olympic debut, 3x3 Nationals played out in front of excited fans outdoors.
By Kyle Ringo, Red Line Editorial
The USA Basketball Men’s and Women’s 3x3 National Championships used to be decided out of the public eye in gyms on the campus of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
But the 2019 Red Bull USA Basketball Men’s and Women’s 3x3 Nationals were transformed into a must-see event for fans of the 3x3 game. Now played outdoors on courts in downtown Las Vegas and sponsored by Red Bull, the nationals are positioned to become one of the most fun and active weekends on the USA Basketball slate each year.
“Being outdoors in Vegas, there was a lot more attitude,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley. “There is a lot more of a vibe to it. So, it has taken it to a new level for us, which is what the plan was for FIBA.
“It’s nontraditional. And then you add the partnership with Red Bull. They invest in a lot of nontraditional sports. They have a really progressive DNA. It’s a progressive sport. We want to be progressive. So, I’m really excited about the growth pattern.”
Red Bull will sponsor more than 20 tournaments this year that feed into the championship beginning in 2020, setting the stage for future growth in the event beyond the 33 men’s and women’s teams that participated this year.
The popularity of 3x3 basketball is rising around the world, but unlike the five-on-five game, the United States doesn’t always dominate because it’s a more level playing field. Nations that may struggle to match up against the U.S. down a roster of 12 players can easier assemble a roster of four competitive players for the 3x3 game.
The U.S. obviously hopes to earn medals in 3x3 basketball as the sport makes its debut in the 2020 Olympic Games, and the work USA Basketball does in feeder tournaments and the national championship is going to play a part.
“I feel really good about our positioning,” Tooley said. “This national championship is going to lead to a lot of other things, 3x3 at the Pan American Games, the FIBA 3x3 World Tour, many other FIBA 3x3 events around the world as well as the World Beach Games in October. “So, all of that collectively will help us qualify for the Olympics. I feel good about where we are.”
Former Purdue star Robbie Hummel played an integral role on the winning men’s team, Ariel Slow & Steady, pouring in 16 of his team’s points in the title game. Hummel, who has played in the past two national championship tournaments, said there was a big difference in this year’s event with so many players with experience in the NBA G League participating.
“It’s a great achievement to win a 3x3 national title especially because the competition level was really ramped up this year,” said Hummel, who was named MVP in the men’s side. “It was really impressive. The G League guys, they got in here and played and it was just a cool event.”
Hummel played on a team that also included Damon Huffman (Brown University/Seattle, Wash.); Kareem Maddox (Princeton University/Los Angeles, Calif.); and Dan Mavraides (Princeton University/Los Angeles, Calif.).
The national championships also served as the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s and Women’s 3x3 National Team trials. All eligible athletes were in consideration for selection to the 2019 USA Men’s 3x3 World Cup Team and the 2019 U.S. Men’s and Women’s Pan American Games Teams.
Athletes selected for those roster spots will be announced at a future date.
For anyone who thinks the 3x3 game doesn’t also make an impact on the sport played outside international competition, look no further than the 13 women’s NCAA teams who participated in the championship this year. The University of Oregon successfully defended its crown behind an MVP performance from Sabrina Ionescu, who scored 17 of her team’s 21 points in the championship game and assisted on each of the remaining four points.
Ionescu said 3x3 is emphasized each day in practices at Oregon, which might be a reason why the Ducks have been so successful of late at the USA Basketball Nationals.
“It’s awesome,” Ionescu said. “Our coaches value 3x3 and we practice it a lot back at Oregon. So to be able to come out here with a new group than we had last year and compete at a high level. It’s super awesome to bring back to our teammates.”