3-on-3 hoops game set to debut

GENEVA -- Basketball's governing body will launch its new 3-on-3 game Sunday at the Youth Olympics in Singapore.

Taking beach volleyball's success as a model, FIBA hopes the smaller, quick-shooting version of hoops will join the Summer Olympics as soon as 2020.

"That is a fair dream," FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann told The Associated Press.

The format must first succeed at the inaugural Youth Games.

Called FIBA 33, it is played on a half-court with both teams scoring in one hoop over two five-minute periods. Play is kept fast-paced with a 10-second shot clock and no timeouts, while teams can win before regulation by reaching 33 points.

"The IOC [is)] excited that we have tried to use the Youth Olympics to do something new," Baumann said. "It gives us the opportunity to have a fresh look at the game and to learn a little bit from the more extreme sports on the streets."

Singapore has become the central testing ground for FIBA 33, also hosting a medal event during the 2009 Asian Youth Games.

The gold was won by China, where enthusiasm for the format is "beyond any imagination," according to Baumann.

"There is a lot of excitement in southeast Asia about 3-on-3. They love it and have tournaments almost every week," he said.

However, the format was created on inner-city asphalt courts in the United States.

"In the U.S. it was an easy way for kids in less-developed areas to play the game," Baumann said. "At some point in the late '80s, early '90s it has been used by big apparel companies to attract kids to basketball and sell shoes."

FIBA hopes the U.S. will be well-matched in Singapore by lesser-ranked basketball nations attracted by a game that is cheaper and easier to organize and coach.

"I really hope it is a small country that wins. I am sure there will be some surprises," Baumann said.

Only the host and the U.S. are represented in both 20-team tournaments. The boys' lineup includes Iran, the Philippines, Spain and the Virgin Islands. Girls' teams from Angola, China, Thailand and Vanuatu will take part in their 10-day event.

On-court rules have been devised to ensure the talent load is spread across the four-player roster and avoid having one player dominate a match.

Players cannot score on a defensive rebound and must pass outside the 3-point line to begin a new play. Teams must pass at least once before shooting and dunking is not allowed.

Baumann said the rules eventually will be modified without compromising the free spirit of street 3-on-3. The game will also be better structured to halt teens drifting away from organized basketball and provide more career opportunities.

To create a world ranking system, FIBA is working with technology companies and statistics professors from a Swiss university.

The federation is also talking with counterparts in volleyball to understand how its beach version developed after debuting at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Baumann believes the FIBA 33 product already is "telegenic, good for sponsors, good for spectators" and can keep casual fans involved in the sport.

FIBA thinks that a half-billion people play basketball but fewer than one-quarter participate in structured competitions.

"There is a whole population of basketball players out there that we don't interact with," Baumann said. "The challenge for FIBA is what happens the day after the Youth Olympics finish."