Popularity of 3x3 Basketball Continues to Grow Across United States
It seems hard to believe these days, but Jay Demings actually had to be convinced.
Now USA Basketball’s 3x3 basketball development director, Demings wasn’t so sure about this niche brand of basketball — at least not at first.
“I considered myself a basketball purist when I first started,” explained Demings, who took on 3x3 as part of his role as USA Basketball’s director of youth and sport development, which he began in 2013. “I thought basketball was strictly five-on-five by the rules we all know. But when I was asked to work on 3x3, I just fell in l with it.”
In particular, Demings fell in love with the inclusivity of the 3x3 game. He appreciates how having fewer players on the court means more touches, more shots and more direct involvement for each member of the team. Plus, each 3x3 squad has only four players — and no coach during games, for that matter — so there is a heavy responsibility on every player, both on and off the court.
“If you’re going to play 3x3, you really have to love it,” Demings said. “We can’t take anybody to just ride the bus.”
Additionally, Demings noted the importance of a scoring system that features 1-pointers and 2-pointers, as opposed to the more standard 2-pointers and 3-pointers. In effect, 3x3 puts an extra emphasis on shots from beyond the arc, as they’re worth twice as much as close-range shots in 3x3 (rather than being valued at a multiple of 1.5 in standard five-on-five hoops).
“It gives players who haven’t been as blessed with height or size or speed to have success that way,” Demings said.
Perhaps the most important benefit of the 3x3 format is that the shorter, quicker games create more competitive matchups. In 3x3, the winner is the first team to 21, or whichever team is leading after 10 minutes.
“So while I always want USA Basketball to dominate,” Demings said, “it does give smaller countries — and hopefully, one day, smaller schools and smaller club teams — a chance to compete.”
And from the viewer’s standpoint, the quick pace of play is another appealing element of the 3x3 format.
“It’s consumable for the fans,” Demings said. “You can watch a game in 20 minutes and go onto something else.”
With those factors in mind, it should come as no surprise that 3x3 is rapidly growing in popularity among players, fans and even basketball purists like Demings.
“I think 3x3 is thriving in the United States,” he said.
FIBA, the world governing body for basketball, originally formalized 3x3 basketball in 2010, introducing the sport at the Youth Olympic Games.
The goal, at the time, was just to get it into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. That goal fell short. However, USA Basketball then made the decision to roll 3x3 under Demings’ youth basketball umbrella.
“We were going to build it up from the grassroots level,” Demings said. “Before we hired a new director, I asked if I could retain it under the youth division until it really got going again. There were very few people who understood the FIBA 3x3 game, so (USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley) figured it was probably better to have some familiarity there and some consistency too.”
From that moment on, Demings and USA Basketball worked hard in collaboration with FIBA and other organizations to get 3x3 into the Tokyo Olympics, which they ultimately did.
The U.S. men’s team fell short of qualifying for the inaugural 3x3 Olympic tournament, while the women qualified and posted a 6-1 record in pool play en route to winning the sport’s first gold medal.
“We take a lot of pride in our teams and the players who have sacrificed to try out a new endeavor, maybe when it’s not so popular to do so,” Demings said. “We’re not quite there yet (in the U.S.) — and that’s OK. I think we’ll get there.”
This year’s main event on the 3x3 calendar is the Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals, which will take place in May.
In the summer and fall months, the Red Bull 3X Local Qualifiers, which are 3x3 tournaments played throughout the United States, will return. The qualifiers feed into four Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Regionals, where winners will earn a trip to the 2023 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals.
There are other 3x3 tournaments, of course, because as Demings noted, “The popularity is there. Now our mission is to get more operators playing under FIBA rules.”
As for Demings, he still oversees youth development, although his day-to-day workload at this point is primarily focused on 3x3 basketball. Under his guidance, the U.S. has won World Cups on both the men’s and women’s side while developing Under-18 programs that are thriving in their own rights.
“We’ve got a full-fledged program,” he said. “I think we’re in good shape for Paris (2024 Olympics).”
Should the U.S. men’s 3x3 team qualify for the Paris games in 2024, it will be gunning for 2020 gold medalist Latvia.
“They’ve committed to the sport and it’s showed,” Demings said, highlighting Latvia among other European and Asian nations that have been drawn to 3x3 hoops. “We had beaten them in the 2019 World Cup, but they invested a lot of time and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and it’s paid off for them. We take a lot of pride in that too. Because maybe they followed us and looked up to us in five-on-five, and maybe in 3x3, we’ll follow them.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.