College trio lead U.S. women to title

ATHENS, Greece -- The United States women's team won the inaugural 3-on-3 world basketball championship Sunday, beating France 17-16 in the final.

Notre Dame senior Skylar Diggins, Connecticut junior Bria Hartley and Stanford junior Chiney Ogwumike teamed with former UConn standout Ann Strother for the U.S. team.

Serbia won the men's title with a 16-13 victory over France. The U.S. men were eliminated by Serbia in the quarterfinals, losing 20-16.

"I am very proud of teammates. They took the hits and gave some back. This was definitely very physical, very different from America," Diggins said.

Diggins, Hartley and Ogwumike, along with Maryland junior Alyssa Thomas easily won a six-team qualifying tournament in early July, in which Strother took part, with another team. With Thomas unable to make the trip to Athens, Strother was called in as a last-minute replacement.

"We had reserved a space in the women's (qualifying) tournament for women who were former national team players," said Jim Tooley, USA Basketball's executive director and CEO.

"It was very easy to learn to play with these girls," Strother said. "They are smart, they are talented, they are competitors."

The U.S. women went 9-0 in the four-day tournament, cruising through the initial group stage, the round of 16 and the quarterfinals but were pushed hard by Australia in the semifinals earlier Sunday, winning 19-18.

In the final, the 6-foot-3 Ogwumike, who had been used to dominating the boards and blocking or altering their shots, had a tough time with France's 6-5 Helena Ciak.

"She was the most physical player in the tournament and she set the tone for the others. But, in the end, it's better to be physical than to play like girls," Ogwumike said.

FIBA, the world basketball federation, is certainly investing a lot in the 3-on-3 game, or 3x3 basketball, as it calls it.

"What FIBA wants is to create a new generation of players ... and take the game into new places. You saw here teams from Guam, from Nepal," Tooley said.

Patterned after streetball, 3x3 basketball is played on a halfcourt and lasts just 10 minutes, unless one of the teams reaches 21 points before that, something the U.S. women did in their first seven games. There is a 12-second shot clock. One point is awarded for free throws and shots inside what is the 3-point arc in the "regular" 5-on-5 game, and two points for shots beyond that arc.

The teams have four athletes each, with one sitting on the bench at any time and they act as their own coaches, taking timeouts and deciding on the timing of substitutions. Actual coaches are not allowed in the court and are not allowed to shout instructions from the sideline, although, in this tournament, several flouted the rule and were not always warned by the referees. There are two referees in each game.

Having managed to include the 3x3 event in the inaugural Youth Summer Olympics, held in 2010 in Singapore, and to organize a world Youth Championship in 2011, the FIBA staged the event as a showcase for its push to have the 3-on-3 format included at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"This is a great historical setting," said FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann, pointing to Athens' Zappeion Hall looming over the four temporary basketball courts assembled for the competition. "This is where the fencing was staged in the inaugural modern Olympics (held in Athens in 1896) and were the press center was."

Baumann, also a member of the International Olympic Committee, said FIBA's intent was to stage the inaugural 3x3 World Championship at the Panathinaiko Stadium, the actual central venue of the 1896 Games. But archaeological authorities would not have allowed the displaying of the sponsors' logos there and the event was moved to the Zappeion Hall, a few hundred yards away.

Baumann said the IOC will discuss including the 3x3 in the Summer Olympics in November but will not make a final decision until late 2013. He is optimistic about the inclusion of the event.

"Imagine, to have Copacabana as the setting for 3x3 basketball. It would be fantastic," he said.

If 3x3 ball becomes an Olympic event, said all U.S. athletes said, they would jump at the chance to represent their country. "Of course, I would prefer to be part of the 5-on-5 team," Diggins said. "But I would do whatever my country wants me to do."

"I would do it in a heartbeat," agreed Ogwumike.

"I would definitely try that," said Tyree Hardge, one of the men's U.S. team members.

Hardge, a Phoenix College graduate, along with teammates Ira Brown (Gonzaga) and Allen Williams (St. Mary's), are all former college players and veterans of the 3x3 circuit. The fourth member, Adetayo Adesanya, was a track and field All-American at Purdue at the long jump and high jump and played high school basketball in Illinois.

The U.S. men were 5-2.

"The men represented us well, on and off the court ... they came through the grass-roots system in the U.S." said Tooley, adding that USA basketball would consider recruiting top college or pro players to try for future 3x3 teams.

"We could have done better, but we are excited about representing our country. In the following years, the U.S. will do much better," said Hardge, adding that the four would consider whether they will continue as a team.

As for the women, Strother, who has retired from pro 5-on-5 play, will continue working the 3x3 circuit.

"This (win) was right up there with the college championships" she won at UConn in 2003 and 2004," she said.