3X Nationals Teams Revel in Fast, Exciting, at Times Taxing, 3x3 Game
The Fast-Paced Variant Takes Some Getting Used to, But Players Soon Love it
The uninitiated could be fooled into thinking 3x3 basketball is the same game as the more visible full-court version.
Mykasa Robinson, a junior playing for the University of Louisville, wanted to make sure her three teammates, who had never played 3x3 in a tournament like the Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals that was held this past weekend at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, came prepared. They could not, she said, perform well in these 3X Nationals if they had the mindset of playing 5-on-5, only on the half-court.
The two games, Robinson told her teammates, are not the same.
Before any other advice, Robinson told her teammates, who all went to the Elite 8 at this year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament, “Be ready to play hard.”
Kianna Smith, another junior at Louisville, said she thought she understood — until the first possession of the first game on Saturday morning when Smith and her teammates played a group of older players bent on showing the collegians how the games were different.
“That first possession, I learned,” said Smith, whose college team lost to eventual national champion Stanford in the NCAA Tournament last March.
What Smith learned is that though the court is smaller, the play is faster. Even though there are fewer players, the play is rougher. And the game lasts only 10 minutes for a reason — to play longer would be too physically taxing.
The men tell the same story as the women — stepping on the half-court in 3x3 and expecting to play at the same pace or with the same intensity as in a full-court game will end quickly. In defeat.
“It’s a wake-up call at first,” said Malik Hluchoweckyj, who played 3X Nationals with 3Ball Select out of Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s brutal.”
Stefhon Hannah, playing for 3BALL Chicago, found that out Saturday playing against 3BALL Minnesota. When reaching to recover a loose ball, Hannah took a forearm to his side and went sprawling. He looked up at the referee, asking for a foul call. None came. While he pled for help on the floor, his opponent stepped behind the arc and let fly a 2-point shot.
Women and men both say there’s no time to rest — or complain — in 3x3. The games are too fast.
Van Girard, playing for Team SLAM out of Southern California, has played all kinds of basketball, ranging from college to professionally overseas to the Harlem Globetrotters. He said he learned fast about the kind of toughness and rigor it takes to play 3x3.
“If you’re in 5-on-5 shape, you’re completely out of shape for 3x3,” said Girard.
Part of the reason for that is how physical the games are.
“Refs don’t call fouls,” he said.
Not that anyone cares. To play on the 3x3 circuit is to know you’re going to get hit. Girard’s friend on Team SLAM, Tori Brooks, has played in multiple overseas stops and in college at the University of California at Irvine. He called playing 3x3 “probably the most physical basketball I’ve ever played. They don’t reward flopping.”
Veteran on the 3x3 circuit Eric Coleman, who plays for 3BALL Minnesota, played professionally in Portugal this season from August until April, before flying home to the United States to play in the 3X Nationals. All that professional 5-on-5 play did not ready him for this tournament.
“You gotta train different — 100 percent,” said Coleman, who spent two weeks playing 3x3 with the Portuguese national team to prepare himself for 3X Nationals.
Part of the training, said Coleman, who’s been playing 3x3 for four years, is a mental one.
“You gotta be mentally tough for this,” he said. “You better know it’s gonna be war out there.”
Back in Eugene, Oregon, Te-Hina Paopao knew that she and her three University of Oregon teammates were going to have to train for 3X Nationals. They couldn’t show up unprepared. After all, Oregon had won the previous two national championships with Sabrina Ionescu, currently in the WNBA, playing.
Paopao said that her coach at Oregon, Kelly Graves, devised a personal training regime for them. Graves had them play against his sons, all standing at least 6-foot-4 and all in their 20s.
Still, Paopao couldn’t have prepared herself for the 3x3 game against Louisville Saturday afternoon. Back in March, Louisville beat Oregon in a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA Tournament, and on Saturday the two 3x3 teams went into overtime.
In overtime, the first team to score two points wins in 3x3 rules. Paopao scored a driving lay-up left-handed, and when Oregon got the ball back, Sydney Parrish ended the game with a 2-point shot for Oregon.
“It was relieving when Syd made that, I was tired,” said Paopao.
More than relieved, Paopao said she felt a sense of satisfaction beating a Louisville team that kicked them out of the NCAA Tournament only three months before.
With a chance to catch her breath, Paopao smiled at the thought of playing more 3x3.
“This is so much fun,” she said. “I’d rather do this than play 5-on-5. It’s so free.”
Greg Kerstetter is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.