Eight of the eleven Olympic 5-on-5 basketball tournaments were won by American women, with six consecutive gold medals. Their Olympic triumphs feel more like celebrations than coronations, as they are favored once again at the Tokyo Games.
The 3x3 basketball made its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Their success felt both like gold and silver Wednesday when the U.S. women won their inaugural gold. The Tokyo Games were a great opportunity to bring the entertainment and fun of Olympic swimming back to the future.
USA Basketball fans are looking forward to more 3x3, although success cannot be taken as a given. That's what makes it exciting. Because the 3x3 game can be too fast and momentum can change so quickly, the United States' superior talent pool doesn't have as much weight as in 5-on-5.
The sport is limited to four players, making it more competitive for countries. The U.S. women were 8-1 in Tokyo. Their only loss was a meaningless last game of the preliminary games, when their top seed had already been clinched. The U.S. roster also included Jackie Young, who left vacation just one week before the first game of the Olympic qualifiers. Katie Lou Samuelson was out of the picture due to COVID-19 protocol.
The U.S. women won gold was like 5-on-5. Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss. Many of the 3x3 American games were close, with tension that kept fans on edge even during the early hours of the morning in the United States.
After Wednesday's victory over the Russian Olympic Committee's team in the 18-15 gold-medal game, Stefanie Dolson, U.S. centre, stated that it was always special to be first. "Basketball is ingrained in American blood. This is why it's so special to be able to achieve this feat and hopefully to start something.
Dolson, like her 3x3 teammates (the Dallas Wings' Allisha Grey and the Las Vegas Aces’ Young and Kelsey Plum), is a WNBA player. She has also spent time in 5-on-5 competition and training with USA Basketball. Plum was part of that team in the 2018 FIBA Women's World Cup and won gold.
Plum (2017) and Young (2019), were both WNBA No. Plum (2017) and Young (2019) were both WNBA No. 1 draft picks. Plum was the only one to win at least one NCAA title (Dolson won two with UConn). Plum also led Washington to its first ever women's Final Four appearance in 2016, which was her first. These are all 5-on-5 great players.
Team USA's Kelsey Plum was the leader with 55 points in nine games to win the 3x3 title. She scored all five points in the gold-medal match and gave the U.S women an unrivalled lead. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Their chances of being on the 5-on-5 Olympic team are slim due to the high number of players in that squad. Players who would be eligible for any other country's team roster can't make it to the U.S. team in every Olympic cycle. With 3x3, there are at least four more opportunities for the top American women's hoop players to be U.S. Olympians.
In this highly entertaining tournament, we got to see what makes the best 3x3 teams and players. The game is played outside, on a half-court, and the 10-minute 3x3 games are a constant cardio workout.
Not everyone can do it. Former WNBA MVPs, Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles, both post players for the Minnesota Lynx, and currently on the 5-on-5 U.S. Team, stated that 3x3 was too fast, especially considering their current careers.
Fowles, 35, laughed and said that "that is just another speed I'm trying not to reach."
Skylar Diggins Smith, Phoenix Mercury's guard, is making her 5-on-5 Olympic debut. She knows what it takes. While at Notre Dame she was a member of the 2012 World Cup 3x3 gold-winning team.
Diggins-Smith stated that countries with three to four top players could play at a high standard. They may not be able compete in the Olympics in 5-on-5. It's a fast game, with a shot clock, time limit and the environment. It takes you back to the streetball environment where we grew up.
Diggins-Smith was instrumental in laying the foundation for the U.S. 3x3 success nine years ago. She took pride in Young, a Notre Dame grad, being part of the first Olympic 3x3 champion team.
Young was not expecting to be there. Samuelson was originally the fourth member of the team, but she was forced to withdraw by COVID-19 protocols shortly before the trip to Tokyo. Young was in Florida on vacation, while the WNBA is on an Olympic break. She received a call on July 17 inviting her to fly to Las Vegas to join the team. Young became an Olympic champion eleven days later.
"Could it be possible?" Plum spoke out about her WNBA colleague going from Olympic mode to relax mode in an instant. Plum said, "I really admire that she came in and was so ready to play at the level and just be rock solid -- super, super consistent.
Team USA finished 8-1 at the Tokyo Games. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Everybody has a deep respect for Plum. Although she is still able to light up a scoreboard, the NCAA's all time women's basketball scoring leader has had to adjust to a different role as a WNBA participant. Plum had to learn how to navigate the WNBA. She started with a San Antonio team that was in decline before moving to Las Vegas. After that, she suffered an Achilles tendon injury that ended her 2020 season.
Plum said that her best friend sent her a video of her walking for the first time. She was referring to the day she walked the same exact distance last year after surgery. Plum also mentioned that Breanna Stewart, the Seattle Storm's female goalkeeper, gave her confidence due to her recovery from an Achilles injury in 2019. I was there to watch her through the process. She changed the narrative about what it was like to have an Achilles injury. I was able to pick her brain. It was a blessing to have someone who helped me along the way."
Plum was actually allowed to join the Olympic team because of the pandemic that delayed the Olympics until 2021. You'll be amazed at her "wow, she did that!" We've seen her make many sweet jump shots and moves to the basket over the years that have been a big part of Team USA's 3x3 success. Plum is as good at 5-on-5 as she is, but 3x3 feels just right for her. Her constant defense activity was vital, not only offensively.
Gray was the WNBA's rookie of the year in 2017, when she was drafted fourth after Plum. Gray attended North Carolina for her college years before moving to South Carolina. This tournament showcased her strength, rebounding, defensive tenacity and ability to get to and from the rim, as well as her hustle. Gray could sometimes seem to be everywhere at once on the court.
Dawn Staley, South Carolina coach and former college teammate A'ja Wilson, are there with the 5-on-5 team as they watch with pride. They will now try to match Gray's winnings.
Dolson? UConn has a long history in the Olympics. Dolson is the 10th Huskies woman's basketball player to win Olympic Gold. This includes five-time Olympians Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and others. Along with UConn graduates Charles, Stewart, and Napheesa, they are part of this year's 5-on-5 squad. Collier, an Olympic rookie, would become the 11th member of that club if the U.S. 5 on-5 team wins in Tokyo.
Dolson is the first to win a new Olympic sport with this gold medal. Dolson, who won a battle with COVID-19 last season, went by the nickname "Big Mama Stef" to wrap the gold medals around the necks of her teammates in the medal ceremony.
It's something we have seen so many times in 5-on-5 for Americans that it seems almost a given. It felt fresh in 3x3.
Kara Lawson, a former WNBA player, was the coach for the U.S. 3x3 women's team. This meant that there was a lot of practice, preparation and motivation, but coaches are not allowed to coach during games.
She wanted the quartet to be able to compete in any style, even those of their opponents, and to have the opportunity to experience the same Olympic gold medal winning performance in Beijing 13 years ago.
Lawson stated that this group was a part of the beginning. "Years later, when the story about the beginning of 3x3 is told," Lawson said.