BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The U.S. women’s 3x3 basketball team entered the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 refusing to accept anything less than gold.
After seven games and a 10-day tournament, it’s mission accomplished for Aliyah Boston, Paige Bueckers, Sam Brunelle and Hailey Van Lith.
“Gold is our standard, so every time we go to play in anything, that’s what we’re going to get. We decided to keep that rolling,” Brunelle said.
That mentality helped the Americans roll through the Games, winning all seven of their games with a 141-57 record.
They coasted through group play, defeating Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Ukraine all by reaching 21 points and ending each game before the 10 minutes were up.
Team USA faced its toughest competition against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, pulling out the win 18-14 in an aggressive game that showed the U.S. that’s how they would have to play going forward, with everyone out to get them.
The final two games were Wednesday, culminating in a 21-9 semifinal win over China and 18-4 domination over France in the gold-medal game.
The win meant the gold earned by De’Janae Boykin, Napheesa Collier, Arike Ogunbowale and Katie Lou Samuelson four years ago in Nanjing, China, was successfully defended. That crew has gone on to win NCAA titles, join the women’s national team pool and compete on “Dancing with the Stars” – a small glimpse of what the future might hold for the Buenos Aires foursome.
“Unexplainable,” Bueckers said of standing atop the podium at Urban Park. “This is my third time doing it [winning an international gold medal] and it doesn’t lose the feeling; it’s just as good as the first time.”
Team USA proved to be celebrities in Argentina, being mobbed on a daily basis by fans seeking photos before and after every game. Bueckers said she would remember the crowd most from her Youth Olympic Games experience – aside from the gold medal.
“The fanfare in Buenos Aires is amazing,” she said. “Everyone wants to take pictures. I love the passion and the energy they have here in Buenos Aires.”
All four women were on the team that won gold at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup in early July, though that was traditional 5x5 basketball. They worked throughout the Games to pick up the nuances of 3x3 and excel in that format of the sport as well.
After initially being selected as the 3x3 team in March, the foursome spent a few days training together at a time; first in March, then June, then September, then came the Games.
Fortunately, they had already bonded off the court and the team chemistry was there thanks to the time they spent together over the past six months.
“We have a special bond off the court, not just on the court,” Brunelle said. “To have that bond helps out.”
“They all won a gold medal at 5x5 championships earlier this summer, so the off-the-court chemistry was there because they’d been around each other before,” coach Kara Lawson said. “On court was a little different because of 3x3; the spacing on the court’s different, how you move, and certainly our plays because there’s only three players on the court as opposed to five.
“I thought we grew in that as the tournament went along. We watched a lot of film to find ways that we could improve. It’s a great feeling, the culmination of a long journey for us. … I feel like I’ve been connected to them for six months and we’ve been waiting for this day for that long certainly and it just is a really good feeling to watch them achieve a big goal of theirs.”
Lawson knows a thing or two about achieving big goals. She is a 2008 Olympic gold medalist and 2005 WNBA champion herself.
“It was great because we were learning from the best,” Boston said of their coach, who they all unanimously called the G.O.A.T. “So I think it just helped that we were focused because we knew what she was telling us was the right thing.”
For the G.O.A.T., though, she gave all glory to her players on this win.
“It’s so fulfilling,” Lawson said of coaching the team to victory. “I’m very proud of the players because in 3x3 you’re not allowed to coach during the game, so as a coach your work is done behind the scenes in getting them ready to do it, so when the game starts they have to do it.
“It’s really a great model because they have to learn to rely on just themselves, so that’s what makes you proud as a coach is when they do it themselves. I’m just really proud for these players. To win two gold medals in one summer is pretty incredible.”