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In 2020, 3x3 basketball will make its debut as an Olympic discipline. The urban sport has been contested at the Youth Olympic Games since 2010, which has helped grow the popularity of and participation in the game.
According to FIBA, the debut of 3x3 basketball at the Games is estimated to be one of the most popular and in-demand disciplines in Tokyo.
“We are very excited about having another avenue for basketball players to make it to the highest level,” said coach, analyst and former player Kara Lawson.
Lawson helped advise the U.S. women’s 3x3 basketball team that won a gold medal at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 last October. The U.S. women have medaled at each of the three Youth Olympic Games, taking bronze in 2010 and then back-to-back golds.
During Lawson’s USA Basketball playing career, she won gold at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 and the 2001 World University Games, as well as three FIBA tournaments.
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“For me it’s full circle,” Lawson said. “Now to be in a position to be a coach for the next generation is very fulfilling.”
The rules of 3x3 are quite simple compared to the traditional 5x5 format.
A team is made up of four athletes (three players and one substitute), and the game is played on a half-court with only one basket.
“We only have four players per team and we need all four,” said Lawson. “It’s a very intense and quick format. It’s fast-paced and you need to be able to have endurance, to be able to focus and lock in for a 10-minute game.”
Players compete in 3x3 basketball at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 on Oct. 17, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It’s imperative 3x3 players not only have endurance, but that they are versatile. They need to be skilled and have the ability to guard and score on players of different sizes.
The first team to 21 points or the team with the most points at the end of 10 minutes wins. Shots inside the arc are one point, and those outside the arc are two points.
“I think the more 3x3 I’ve played the better I’ve gotten at 5x5, by moving and being physical, and getting shots up,” said Carson McCorkle, a 2018 Youth Olympian and Virginia basketball commit. “It’s really physical and really fast, which makes it a lot more competitive. It keeps me in great shape because it’s such a fast and physical game, and it translates so much to 5x5.”
Lawson said they’ve seen tremendous improvements from players who are largely 5x5 players because of their involvement in 3x3. The discipline is also a great way to teach young athletes about the game of basketball.
“I think it’s a great learning and teaching tool and at times it’s better than 5-on-5 for younger kids because there are less players on the court,” said Lawson. “They can nail down concepts, and see the floor and all the moving parts.”
Not only is 3x3 helping to develop athletes, but it has helped grow the game of basketball all over the world.
“I think this sport is only going to grow,” Lawson shared. “Having 3x3 be an Olympic sport sends a statement to the world that this is important.”
Many are hoping when 3x3 makes its debut in Tokyo it will open the door for more people across the world to play basketball and make their Olympic dream a reality – potentially as a 3x3 player, an avenue not thought of until recently.
“A lot of us who are really involved and entrenched in 3x3 know how wonderful of a sport it is and how exciting it can be,” said Lawson. “I hope the sport catches fire and [the Olympic Games] are really the platform it has needed to gain a worldwide appeal.”
Kara Lawson coaches at the USA Basketball 3x3 U-18 National Championships on April 12, 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colo.