NaLyssa Smith is Taking Advantage of Her New Role on the USA 3x3 AmeriCup Team
NaLyssa Smith has played “hundreds, if not thousands” of organized basketball games in her life. And they all had one thing in common. They were all 5-on-5.
The 22-year-old is now embarking on a new basketball challenge by representing USA Basketball at the 2022 FIBA 3x3 Women's AmeriCup in Miami. The tournament runs Nov. 4-6 on the plaza adjacent to FTX Arena, home of the Miami Heat.
“I’m really looking forward to the experience,” Smith said. “I’ve done different things for USA in the past but never 3x3, and everyone tells me how exciting and quick it is. I’m just really looking forward to experiencing it for myself.”
Smith, despite her age, has already had a wealth of experience in 5-on-5.
A 6-foot-4 forward, she won an NCAA championship with Baylor University as a freshman in 2019. She was the back-to-back Big 12 Player of the Year. During that same time was named NCAA’s best power forward after winning the Katrina McClain Award as a junior and a senior.
From there the Indiana Fever picked her second in the 2022 WNBA Draft and she recently completed a rookie season that lived up to top-pick hype with WNBA All-Rookie honors. She started all 32 games, averaged 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds, and earned invites to both the 2022 WNBA Skills Challenge, part of All-Star Weekend, and to USA Basketball’s Women's National Team training camp in September.
Now she’s hoping to add to that string of success at the 3x3 AmeriCup, where she’ll be partnered with two other WNBA rookies, Veronica Burton and Lexie Hull, and 3x3 veteran Camille Zimmerman.
Smith said she’s going into 3x3 training camp with an open mind, but she said a couple things have already stood out about the half-court setup which will be key to success.
“I’m looking forward to the pace and how quickly you have to score. Plus, I think 3x3 becomes more and more of that 1-on-1 game on defensively,” Smith said. “You have to be ready for that and you have to be ready to swing the ball to find the best 1-on-1s for you or your teammates quickly.”
Smith thinks she’ll have to play a more aggressive game driving to the hoop and take advantage of her combination size and speed. She’ll settle for fewer jumpshots and look to be more explosive around the net.
“You don’t want to settle for jumpshots when you know you can be quicker than your defender,” Smith said. “So you are going to see a bit of a different game from me, I think it’s something that can come together well.”
Zimmerman, who will be the 3x3 veteran on the team, said she was looking forward to seeing that play out, noting that Smith could be a “dangerous weapon” in this tournament.
That more patient offensive approach is something Smith said she hopes can be a long-term lesson, using the 3x3 competition to practice some skills in her 5-on-5 game in the future.
“For sure, I think that will be a key long-term takeaway from this experience,” Smith said. “I’ll get to trust my speed in (3x3), know it’s about scoring pace, those are things I can grow confidence in at the 3x3 AmeriCup and hopefully bring to other things.”
There’s also the built-in confidence from playing for USA Basketball, which Smith says is a point of pride no matter what level or how many players are on the court.
“It’s a great opportunity, you are playing for something bigger than yourself,” Smith said. “It’s always great to play for USA. You get a lot of great experiences out of it, you grow some camaraderie, it’s going to be fun.”
It’s all part of a greater basketball journey for Smith.
“I mean it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid,” Smith said. “I finally get to live that dream. Every day I’m taking advantage of it and trying to get better.”
Those dreams, admittedly, featured 5-on-5 games, but now with 3x3 as an option Smith said she’s going to probably challenge a handful of WNBA teammates to 3x3 games in the future at practice.
“For sure,” Smith said with a laugh. “After playing in this, I’ll try to get some of them going.”
Sean Shapiro is freelance contributor for USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.