USA Basketball Men’s 3x3 Team Prepares for Olympic Qualifying Tourney
When you hear that the USA Basketball Men’s 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team is holding a training camp, a few questions probably pop into your head.
Who is on the team? When do they play? What are their chances?
These days, another question might be how they’re handling the quarantine.
For the one-week training camp that officially began March 11, the four players — Canyon Barry, Robbie Hummel, Dominique Jones and Kareem Maddox — traveled to Orlando, Florida, on Sunday and immediately went into quarantine, per USA Basketball’s health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone also was tested before heading to camp. Some had to take time off from their day jobs for nearly two weeks, a common theme among 3x3 players.
The group is staying at a house not far from Disney World along with another set of four practice players and support personnel. Each morning, everyone in the house is tested. Even with a full house, the players are isolated in their rooms, although they do get to spend time outside — as long as it is prearranged.
“We understand how important it is to keep everyone safe and just try and do our part, so that we can get out on the court and start working,” said Barry.
In-room workouts, film study and strategy discussions take place over video conference calls. Otherwise, the group relies on streaming content, books or video games to keep everyone from getting too antsy. Barry is used to the bubble life as he just completed his season with the Iowa Wolves of the NBA G League in the traditional five-on-five format. He plays a little guitar to keep from getting bored.
“I tried to be pretty buff, so I just brought an electric guitar and no amps, so it's pretty quiet,” said Barry, who noted the Wi-Fi doesn’t always accommodate the number of people in the house. “I didn't bring out the acoustic. I figured, you know, after 30 minutes of practicing, people would be yelling across the house like, 'Cut that out!' So, I try to keep it nice and quiet for everyone.”
This is the first of two expected training camps before the U.S. competes in the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament from May 26-30 in Graz, Austria. The field of 20 teams is broken down into four groups of five. The U.S. is in Group B with Lithuania, Belgium, South Korea and Kazakhstan. The top three finishers in the qualifying tournament advance to this summer’s pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, where eight teams will compete for gold in the sport’s Olympic debut.
For most players, the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament will represent a return to competitive action for the first time since November 2019, when the FIBA 3x3 World Tour concluded and before the 2020 3x3 season was canceled. Needless to say, they will ease back into it while still grasping the urgency of the team’s agenda.
“The concern with injuries and not going too hard, too fast is always important,” said Joe Lewandowski, the team’s advisor — a role that’s similar to a coach, but he has no contact with the team during games. “Then getting acclimated with some of the actions and things we will look to run during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. I know it sounds like a lot, but we also have some guys that need to work back in together. They don't play with each other on the (3x3) World Tour.”
Cohesiveness will be a top priority. Barry, Hummel and Maddox have played together previously — winning the 2019 FIBA World Cup gold medal — and all are familiar with Jones, an explosive scorer, who helped the USA claim gold alongside Maddox at the inaugural 2019 Pan American Games 3x3 tournament. Hummel and Maddox are teammates on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour with Princeton, while Jones plays for rival New York Harlem. Barry’s 3x3 experience is more limited, but he has seen the most recent game action in the G League.
“I think just being able to play with the flow,” Barry said of the key factor to success. “With 3x3, it's so important. Obviously, we'll have our set plays, which we will have memorized and can draw up and run, but then the highest-level 3x3 teams — you kind of see it with Serbia and some of those other countries that have been playing the game for a long time — they almost just kind of have that secondary understanding of where their players are going to be and that almost cerebral nature of the game, where they throw passes and just trust their teammates to be there.”
Helping to sharpen the foursome is a USA 3x3 select team, made up of Damon Huffman, Zahir Carrington, Joey King and Craig Moore. All are 3x3 veterans, having played on the FIBA 3x3 World Tour. Huffman, Carrington and Moore have been of the Princeton 3x3 rotation, and King has played with New York Harlem. Additionally, Carrington, Huffman and Moore played together for the USA at the 2017 FIBA 3x3 World Cup, while Huffman also won gold at the 2019 FIBA 3x3 World Cup and Moore represented the USA at the 2014 FIBA 3x3 World Cup.
Their presence allows for more intense practices than what 3x3 players are used to. Usually, teams fly from the U.S. to whichever international stop is on the schedule that week and essentially have one practice the day before the tournament begins.
“It is unique for us to have this many consecutive days where we have eight guys all together. We can actually train together,” said Huffman. “During the professional season, at best you're going to have four guys at a location. To have essentially two teams, that in and of itself is unique.”
Lewandowski said the USA 3x3 select team will try to emulate the various looks of the teams the U.S. will face in the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
“I think one of the things that we're going to try to do is to re-create some of that competitive environment where you're playing against high-level competition,” Huffman said. “Kareem, Robbie, Canyon and Dominique Jones, they have never played together. So, they need to get reps to feel it out. Part of that is that and also building their continuity and really being kind of practice players that can push them and help them prepare for the OQT.”