Olympics / Sports

Group out to grow 3-on-3 hoops

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was easy for player Jimmy Velten to see the possibilities for 3-on-3 basketball in the United States.

Velten and three teammates competed in the recent Under-18 national championships at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. Although there were only 57 players, including 15 girls, combined in the men's and women's tournaments, he didn't expect that small turnout to remain the norm.

"It's a fun, fast-paced game where you get to play a lot and are forced to make quick decisions," the incoming high school senior said. "Once you play it, you love it. I expect a lot more players my age and younger will like this and take it more seriously, especially when you hear that there are national teams to play for."

National youth program director Jay Demings is confident that will be the case, especially after the Colorado Springs-based organization develops U18, U14 and U12 age divisions for its national 3-on-3 program.

The 21/2-year-old initiative began after FIBA began pushing for its inclusion in the Olympics by 2020.

The international federation hopes 3-on-3 will grow the sport worldwide with smaller countries able to produce four top-end players instead of the 12 to 14 needed in 5-on-5.

USA Basketball sees 3-on-3 as a way to reach more youth players. It started its U18 division last year and will add U14 and U12 next year or 2016 at the latest.

"There is a lot of growth potential in the middle and high school ranks," Demings said.

The hope is regionals will attract more players and jump-start a new national ranking system overseen by USA Basketball. That system would provide the foundation for a national team program.

"Having more regionals will generate more interest from players willing to drive an hour to play, especially in the Northeast where there is a lot of talent," said 3-on-3 program director Travis Johnson.

The U18 division will have East and West regionals next year instead of a single national tournament.

Demings and Johnson say 3-on-3 appeals to children and parents. It also retains players who lose interest in 5-on-5 as they enter high school.

"Instead of having a team of 12 with players sitting on the bench, you have three teams of four," Demings said. "The younger age groups are very excited about the chance to wear Team USA gear. Parents like seeing their kids play."

The different rules help players perform in the traditional 5-on-5 game. A 12-second shot clock encourages players to make quick decisions.

"It's a fast-paced game that forces you to be aggressive," said Alex Greenly, a high school senior who played in that tournament. "Everyone has to step up. It's good for you in 5-on-5 because it gets you more time on the court."

All four players are active participants even with one on the sideline, Johnson said. The substitute calls out time left on the shot clock and steps in for a tiring teammate.

Sand Creek senior Bryce Glaser enjoys the free-form nature of the game.

"It's an exciting game to play," he said. "It emphasizes quick shooting and decisions."

The rules reward long-range shooting. Baskets from beyond the arc count for two points while others, including free throws, are worth one.

"You have to pass and work quickly to find an open shot," Johnson said. "We are really excited about the possibilities both for retaining players longer but getting more kids playing at a young age."

(c)2014 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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