3-on-3 basketball players show off skills, dream of Olympics
Charity tournament held less than a month after sport given Olympic green light
Kyle Slingerland knows his chances of becoming an Olympian one day just got a little bit better.
"Yeah, honestly, it's definitely something to work for. It's just another sport that you can make it at," said the 14-year-old Ottawa basketball player before stepping onto the Lansdowne Park courts Sunday for a game of 3-on-3.
Slingerland was one of hundreds of players, young and old, who showed off their crossovers and fadeaways at the day-long tournament organized by local charities Ausome Ottawa and Hera Mission.
The tournament comes at a fortuitous time for fans of the fast-paced, free-flowing sport: In mid-June, the International Olympic Committee added 3-on-3 basketball to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program in an attempt to give the games a more youthful appeal.
More accessible than 5-on-5
The plan for 2020 is now to have eight teams participating in both the men's and women's tournaments. The half-court game had earlier been introduced at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore.
Part of the attraction is that, for many young players, 3-on-3 basketball is simply more accessible than the traditional 5-on-5 game, said Ausome Ottawa executive director Liisa Vexler.
"It totally excites them," said Vexler, whose charity works to create sporting opportunities for children with autism.
"Because they can play 3-on-3 in their driveway. You only need one net. So it means that everybody can dream about being in the Olympics."
On Sunday, Brian Nuwagaba was coaching a few of the young players he mentors through the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.
An avid basketball player himself, Nuwagaba said the decision to include the 3-on-3 game in the next Summer Olympics isn't just exciting for youth players — it's a chance for athletes his own age to prove they've also got what it takes.
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"I know there'll be a lot of guys in the city that'll love [to] try out. The city of Ottawa is growing with basketball. We haven't had it like this in a long time," Nuwagaba said.
"When I was growing up, everything was through Toronto and the States, right? But now, we're getting all the talent here — and they're staying here, playing with the schools and universities."
Mac-Doris Jean-Marie's son was also playing in Sunday's tournament, although at nine years old, it's fair to say his chances of making the 2020 Olympic squad are a bit slim.
Jean-Marie said the less rigorous, more free-flowing nature of 3-on-3 is part of the reason the game appeals to a younger generation of basketball players.
"It's not as structured as the 5-on-5. They get to do more, like, freestyle. The refs are not as involved. They will make calls, but some calls they'll let them slip," he said.
"It's going to be a different style of basketball [than the Olympics are used to]. It's going to be more of a show than anything."
'A real respected sport'
Organizers of Sunday's tournament said they didn't know 3-on-3 would be getting the green light from the IOC when they first began putting the event together.
"It was a total coincidence," said Peggy Taillon, whose charity Hera Mission works to improve the lives of people living in Kenya.
But the IOC's decision isn't the only sign that 3-on-3 is gaining legitimacy, Taillon said. She also pointed to the recent founding of the BIG3 basketball league, which got underway last month and features rosters stocked with former NBA players like Allen Iverson and Jermaine O'Neal.
"We really feel like this is becoming a real respected sport. It's always been a sport, but now there's, like, some serious respect to be given to it," Taillon said. "So it's really exciting."