As fun as it sounds to put LeBron James, James Harden and Kevin Durant on the USA’s 3-on-3 men’s team and Breanna Stewart, Elena Della Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith on the women’s team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that’s probably not going to happen.
Instead, USA Basketball has partnered with Red Bull for a series of 3-on-3 events across the nation to help determine who should represent the U.S. at the Summer Games.
“Our priority is qualifying both our men’s and women’s teams for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We want to have a number of athletes start playing in a number of national and international events to earn points for our country as well as themselves and this partnership with Red Bull is going to be a big part of our qualification process.”
USA Basketball will play host to a men’s and women’s national championship this weekend in Las Vegas and then 20 qualifying tournaments will be played under the Red Bull 3X series to help identify the four men and four women who could represent the U.S. at the 2020 Olympics. The first Red Bull event will be in Detroit on June 22.
There is no guarantee the U.S. qualifies for one of the eight men’s and women’s spots (four players per team) in the Olympics. The top three teams in rankings automatically qualify and then teams Nos. 4-24 will compete in a qualification tournament to determine four teams and a final spot will be awarded through another qualifying system.
Tooley said the U.S. hopes to be in the top three and automatically qualify men’s and women’s team. The U.S. men are ranked eighth and the U.S. women are ranked 33rd, according to FIBA, the world basketball governing body.
Some top countries in 3-on-3 are not always the traditional basketball powerhouses. Japan is No. 5, Mongolia No. 7, Netherlands No. 9 and Qatar No. 10 in the men’s rankings. On the women’s side, China is No. 1, Mongolia No. 2, Romania No. 4, Estonia No. 6 and Hungary No. 10.
It’s a different game with one 10-minute quarter and a 12-second shot clock. Each team has one sub. Baskets are worth one point inside the three-point line, two points beyond the arc.
The U.S. players who may compete in Olympics will be decided an intricate points system based on participation and success. The more events players participate in and the better they do, the more points they receive for the player rankings.
FIBA also dictates that two of the four players on the team must be ranked in the top 10 and the other two must be ranked in the top 100.
“We want to make athletes aware of this opportunity,” Tooley said. “We sent out material to players and teams to get the word out and let them know this opportunity exists and there’s a pathway to the Olympics.”
While NBA and WNBA players won’t be on the teams, some recognizable names, such as college or former college and pro players, will participate in qualifying events.
FIBA had been trying to get 3-on-3 into the Olympics and began building a case by conducting world championships at the senior and youth level. The sport was played at the 2010 Youth Olympics, and by 2017, the IOC was ready to include 3-on-3 in its Summer Olympics
“We believe this is here to stay and the traction we have received in the past several months has been phenomenal in terms of interest,” Tooley said.
Former NBA player and St. John’s coach and two-time Olympic Chris Mullin is 3-on-3 ambassador for USA Basketball.
“This is the purest form of basketball,” Mullin said. “It exercises the fundamental skills – passing, shooting, rebounding, setting screens, and working as a cohesive group. You don’t overthink it. You trust your skills. All my confidence grew from playing 3-on-3. It’s always been a teaching tool.”