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Hooping to step up in 3x3

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 10:19
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Smaller in numbers, but bigger in ambition — China's 3x3 basketball program is poised to steal the show in Paris, with both the men's and women's teams shooting for Olympic success.

With a decorated women's team eager to step higher on the podium, and an emerging men's side raring to make its presence felt, China is taking the half-court game's second Olympic tournament as a showcase of its overall improvement in the event, which has been gaining traction across the country as a serious sport, rather than just an outdoor urban pastime.

As the No 1 program on FIBA's Olympic qualification ranking list, the Chinese women's team refuses to rest on its laurels and is shooting for higher goals after having won a bronze medal at the game's Olympic debut in Tokyo three years ago.

"Our core players have grown more mature. We've come to know each other better and built a stronger chemistry together," said women's team captain Wang Lili during a recent open training session in Beijing.

"Our goal is obviously to win a brighter colored medal at the Paris Olympics as payback for our efforts in the build-up."

Led by coach Xu Jiamin on the sidelines and Wang on the court, the women's team has finished on the podium at three major tournaments in a row — winning a gold medal at the 2019 World Cup, a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, and another third-place finish at the 2022 World Cup.

The increasing commitment to the 3x3 game from basketball heavyweights, however, has significantly raised the bar going into the Paris Olympic cycle, with more professional players from established five-a-side programs in the United States, France and Australia shifting to the half-court game, making it a tougher battle for anyone to reign supreme at any international events.

The heavy toll taken by an arduous Olympic qualifying campaign last year is still being felt by Xu's team now, with veteran Wang, among other injured teammates, only returning to full-strength training recently after an eight-month layoff for a knee ligament rupture.

"Indeed, injuries cost us a lot, and will remain a challenge for us during the final preparation for Paris. Yet, we will stay focused, play with what we have got and try to take one step at a time to get ready for the Olympics," said Xu.

According to FIBA rules, the qualification quota places for both the men's and women's eight-team Olympic tournaments were decided by each FIBA member association's total of its top-25 players' individual world ranking points as of Nov 1 last year.

This prompted the Chinese Basketball Association to fly its players, representing dozens of clubs, across the globe to play in FIBA's World Tour events in a hectic hunt for points.

The Chinese men's team, bolstered by several players from the five-a-side CBA league, takes pride from its game-heavy road to Paris last year, and is braced for a dogfight when the eight-team, round-robin pool stage tips off on July 30 at the iconic Place de la Concorde.

"We are racing against time now, with some players just joining from their CBA season. We have to build every piece into one strong quartet in the next month," said men's team coach Wang Zhanyu.

"We are studying each of the other seven teams' styles and strengths, and will trial our different tactics in our three remaining warm-up events. Then, we will go all-out in Paris."

With more experience of the 3x3 game's higher demands in transition, physicality and endurance, Yan Peng, the only player on the current roster who played in Tokyo, is confident that the men's side will do better in Paris.

"We've been improving gradually in the three years since our first Olympics, and we will try to at least put up a braver fight than last time," said Yan, recalling that the squad finished bottom in Tokyo.

The Chinese men's and women's teams will both compete at the Chengdu Masters, a top-flight event on the FIBA World Tour, this coming weekend in the Sichuan provincial capital, before each playing two more legs on the tour to toughen up for Paris.

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