Robbie Hummel was named MVP of the FIBA 3x3 World Cup after leading USA to their first-ever world title in 3x3 on June 23, 2019 in Amsterdam.
After leading the United States to its first world title in men’s 3x3 basketball, Robbie Hummel has a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this second phase of his playing career.
Two years ago, the International Olympic Committee approved 3x3 basketball as a new event for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. With NBA stars quickly deemed unlikely to participate, it’s opened up a new path for basketball players to reach the Olympics.
Just a few months after the IOC’s announcement, Hummel had an announcement of his own: He was retiring from professional hoops.
A bona fide college star at Purdue, Hummel helped the team reach the Sweet 16 but also tore his ACL twice. The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, and after starting his pro career by playing in Spain for a year, Hummel returned to the Wolves and spent two seasons on the roster. That was followed by a year in Italy, a preseason stint with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and then one season in Russia.
“I’d had enough,” Hummel said. “I didn’t enjoy living overseas and playing overseas. I liked to visit those places, but being there for 10 months is hard. So I decided to call it quits.”
Hummel had accepted a new role as an analyst with ESPN and the Big Ten Network, but a former Big Ten rival, Craig Moore, who played at Northwestern for two seasons while Hummel was at Purdue, had another idea.
Moore had stayed in touch with Hummel after leaving college and kept up with his performances in Europe. He was unable to talk Hummel out of retirement, but he knew that his friend still had productive basketball left in him, so he suggested that Hummel come try playing 3x3 with him. Although he was initially skeptical of the travel, Hummel took him up on the offer.
“I went on that first trip to Seoul, and the rest is history,” Hummel said.
There are the obvious differences with 3x3 basketball: the half-court setup, the 10-minute limit on games. But those rules also help create a different style of play than what’s seen in the traditional 5x5 game.
For starters, there’s the level of cardio required. Even though traditional 5x5 basketball uses a full court, players often have time to catch their breath as the ball makes its way down the court. But in 3x3, because the transition from offense to defense can happen so quickly, players have to almost constantly be in motion. That requires two things: a lot of stamina and the ability to think quickly about strategy and understand where to move next.
Then there’s the physicality of the game. In true streetball fashion, fouls are not called very frequently, which means players will often have to fight through some hard contact in order to score.
Because 3x3 uses 1-pointers and 2-pointers for scoring (instead of 2-pointers and 3-pointers), the game is very perimeter-oriented, and versatility is key. Hummel, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and can shoot from long range, fit the bill well, but in order to succeed, he had to adapt his game and figure out some of the “weird strategies” that are only present in 3x3.
It took some time, as he and his teammates lost to teams from countries that lacked NBA pedigrees but had the benefit of cohesiveness and continuity. (It also didn’t hurt that those countries typically didn’t have to travel as far to get to tournaments).
But it all came together this season. Hummel’s team won the national 3x3 title, defeating Moore’s squad in the process, and he was part of the four-man squad that was sent to last month’s FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Amsterdam.
Through five days of competition, the U.S. team finished pool play and the knockout rounds with a combined 7-0 record and outscored its opponents by an average of nine points per game. (Each game ends once a team hits 21 points or once 10 minutes elapse — whichever happens first).
Hummel led the way in scoring for Team USA with 46 combined points in those games and was named tournament MVP.
The other members of the gold-medal squad: Kareem Maddox, a 29-year-old former Princeton player currently working as a podcast producer; Damon Huffman, a 34-year-old who previously played at Brown University; and Canyon Barry, the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry who currently plays in the G League (the NBA’s developmental league).
“I thought we played outstanding,” Hummel said. “Offensively, we were pretty good, and defensively, we were elite.”
It marked the first time the U.S. has won the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, the event that currently represents the international pinnacle for the sport. Serbia has dominated the competition in the past, winning four of the five titles prior to this one. The only other country to win the title: Qatar.
The competitive calendar for 3x3 basketball meshes nicely with Hummel’s growing career in broadcasting. He can call games during the college basketball season, then compete in 3x3 tournaments during the offseason.
Hummel may have to scale back his broadcasting workload a bit this year as he stays in shape for 3x3, but because he and his usual teammates (which include Maddox and Huffman) have other jobs and live in different cities spread all across the country, it creates a logistical challenge finding time to practice and train together during the 3x3 offseason.
“As the Olympics get closer, we’ll have to figure out ways to be together,” Hummel said, “because it’s so important to build a cohesive unit.”
The next challenge will be getting the U.S. qualified for the Olympics. Despite the World Cup win, Team USA won’t have the opportunity to do that until later. Assuming the U.S. successfully qualifies, Hummel will hope to be selected for the team that competes in Tokyo.
Whatever happens, Hummel has already made history for Team USA and is having fun doing it.
“It was a great feeling,” Hummel said of winning the country’s first world title. “Any time you can be the first, it’s pretty special.”