USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team Takes the Court
After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Team has taken shape. Three members of the original qualifying squad from 2020 — center Stefanie Dolson, guard Allisha Gray and guard Kelsey Plum — were brought back for the 2021 FIBA qualifying tournament May 26-30 in Graz, Austria. Katie Lou Samuelson earned the fourth spot, replacing fellow guard Napheesa Collier who withdrew from the original 2020 qualifying roster after the tournament was postponed.
“It’s very exciting,” Gray said. “3x3 has always interested me. When I got the opportunity to be on the team, it was an instant yes. I did not hesitate a second.”
All four players already had been working on their 3x3 game together at the USA National Team training camp in early February at the University of South Carolina, and this week Dolson, Gray and Plum will be on the court again March 27-30 in San Antonio.
“It always feels nice to see everyone and catch up,” Dolson said of the training camp. “Getting back out there and practicing with the team was great.”
Though health and safety concerns forced a one-year postponement of both the qualifying tournament and the Olympics, the goals remain the same. USA Basketball already has had its share of 3x3 success outside of Olympic competition. U.S. squads have won two gold medals and one bronze at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup and a combined six gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup and Youth Olympic Games.
Samuelson brings medal-winning experience to the squad. She was a member of teams that took gold in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup and FIBA Americas 3x3 U18 Championship in 2013, as well as the 2014 Youth Olympics. For Dolson, Plum, and Gray, the qualifying tournament represents their first 3x3 experience on the world stage.
“I was really excited, they have a lot of belief in me,” Dolson said. “3x3 isn’t always seen as a game where you have a ‘big’ on the team, but I’m mobile and can shoot the ball. I’m proud of myself for making the qualifying team, but also honored that they named me to the team.”
While the 3x3 game bears many similarities to the traditional, five-on-five game, there are significant differences — most notably a 12-second shot clock. Only half the court is used, and the game is over when one team scores 21 points or 10 minutes has elapsed. Think of a playground pickup game — that’s a pretty good idea of how 3x3 is played.
While, as Dolson notes, “It’s still basketball,” the differences in the 3x3 game pose challenges.
“The style of play is different. It’s quicker and there isn’t much down time — it’s just ‘go,’” she said. “It’s a different demand on your body that requires more endurance. There’s a different type of attention you must have. It’s also very fun to play. You have the ball in your hands more often.”
Gray agreed with Dolson’s assessment, adding that each player must be “much more focused” to deal with the one-on-one demands of the 3x3 game.
“There’s no help (on defense). You’re pretty much on an island by yourself,” Gray said. “But you still have to have the chemistry with your teammates and really know the plays.”
All four players named to the 3x3 qualifying team have a busy summer in store after a relatively quiet schedule in 2020. The quartet all play in the WNBA — Dolson with the Chicago Sky, Plum with the Las Vegas Aces, Gray with the Dallas Wings and Samuelson with the Seattle Storm.
Samuelson also currently is playing for Spanish team Perfumerias Avenida, the lone member of the four to be playing internationally at this point. Dolson and Plum are again healthy after suffering injuries in 2020. Dolson is looking to bounce back from an ankle injury that derailed her 2020 season with the Sky, while Plum is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined her all of last year.
“My injury last year was pretty lingering,” Dolson said. “So this year, I’m just focusing on being back and being healthy, training for the USA and for the Sky, so I can perform at a high level.”