Natasha Cloud Excited for the Challenge of 3x3
When it comes to taking on a new challenge, this might be the perfect time and opportunity for Natasha Cloud.
After all, the 27-year-old guard is coming off a breakthrough season for the Washington Mystics, which won the WNBA title for the first time in franchise history this past summer.
The upward trajectory of her career could take another step this week as Cloud and 10 other women are in Chicago for a two-day USA Basketball training camp. The camp will determine the four-player team that will compete in the 2020 FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament from March 18-22 in Bengaluru, India. The top three finishing teams from that tournament will earn a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where 3x3 basketball will make its Olympic debut.
But her biggest hurdle could be not having played 3x3 according to FIBA rules.
“It's going to be extremely interesting to get a feel for it,” said Cloud, who will be in a similar position as some fellow WNBA players in this camp. “Besides a 3x3 pickup game or 3x3 in practice, I haven't played a regulation game. So, I'm excited for the challenge.”
Versatility and the ability to transition quickly from offense to defense and vice versa are key. And with it being just a slightly different version of the basketball she is used to, Cloud says her game is well-suited for 3x3.
“I'm an unselfish player. I play both ends of the floor,” said Cloud, who learned of the opportunity through former Mystics teammate Kara Lawson. “I think primarily I'm known for my defense first. I had the pleasure of guarding the best perimeter players every single night in the WNBA. I'm a point guard. I see the floor very well. And I'm a little bit bigger of a point guard, too. So, it's sometimes easier for me to get to the basket.”
Cloud, 6-feet all and drafted 15th overall in 2015 by the Mystics out of St. Joseph’s University, averaged a career-best 9.0 points and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season, but then turned it up in the playoffs with 13.1 points, 6.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game to spark the Mystics to the WNBA championship.
“Just kind of coming into my own,” Cloud said of why her game elevated. “I worked my ass off all offseason the last few years and just taking my step and taking ownership of the team I think was huge for me as well. Understanding that we go as I go, in a sense, and I think it made a huge difference when taking on that responsibility to take my game to the next level.”
Cloud has played professionally in Turkey, Australia and China, which has helped her game develop in addition to giving her exposure to international playing styles. For instance, in China, she was one of the shorter players in the league and ended up guarding taller players, which gave her a new defensive perspective.
Cloud wouldn’t change a thing on her basketball path as she has scratched and clawed for everything she has achieved.
“You know, I had to work my ass off to get where I wanted to,” Cloud said. “To win the championship in the WNBA just made it that much sweeter. But I've kind of been an underdog, going to a mid-major (college), my journey's been a little bit different, but it's been a blessing. It's challenged me and made me into the point guard I am now.”
It is that background and confidence that Cloud will rely on as she takes the court for 3x3.
“When I got picked, one of the first people I told was Elena (Delle Donne, Mystics teammate) and she was just really excited that I finally got an opportunity to be in kind of the USA pool,” Cloud said. “But she said it's an exciting time. It's going to be an adjustment (to 3x3) obviously, but the one thing is I adjust pretty easily so I'm just really excited.”
Coming out of this camp with one of those four roster spots would put her one step closer to realizing another dream — and would also be a nice early birthday present, as she turns 28 on Feb. 22.
“I was super-hyped to get the opportunity to represent my country,” Cloud said. “That’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.”