Posted On: 02/28/19 3:43 PM

Until now, most Americans have thought of 3X3 basketball as a game for little kids, or something you do down at the gym with your buddies when the whole court is unavailable. The idea of wearing a Team USA jersey and representing your country at the Olympic Games in 3X3 sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? No more. The 3X3 game has taken off around the world and it’s about to get big here in Minnesota courtesy of the folks at AAU. On March 10 AAU will kick off its 3X3 initiative locally with a small one-day event. By fall, AAU plans a to have a full-blown league. Who knows where it goes from there?

“This is a trial run, a beta test if you will,” said Dave Preller, the long-time Woodbury High School coach who is AAU’s director of girls basketball in Minnesota. “AAU wanted to put an event out here and get people excited now, but our full season will be in September and October.”

The 3X3 Kick-Off tournament will take place on Sunday, March 10 at Chanhassen High School. It is open to players in grades 4-12 and competition will be by grade level. Varsity players are eligible to compete as long as their high school season has concluded. Players whose teams make it to the state high school tournament are ineligible, but they’ll receive a full refund of their 3X3 entry fees. The fee is $80 per team and teams are guaranteed a minimum of three games. Teams can have up to four players.

The games will be officiated by high school-certified referees. Each team must have one adult on the bench. The adult can coach if they want but have to remain seated. AAU membership is required, but players participating on regular AAU teams will already have that taken care of. Information on the event is available online at aauevents.com/3on3

There will be no ‘stall ball’ here

This tournament will use modified 3X3 rules. Teams are awarded 1 point for a basket shot from inside the arc, 2 points for scores from beyond the arc, 1 point for a made free throw. The games are 18 minutes running time, or the first team to 15 points (win by two). If the contest is tied at the end of regulation play there is an overtime period and the first team to score 2 points in OT is declared the winner. The defensive team gets possession of all jump balls.

This first event will likely deviate from the official rules in one very important way: the 12-second shot clock. Organizers in Minnesota are trying to round up the technology in time for the event, but in a state where the high school league continues to stonewall on shot clock implementation the devices are not readily available. “We are working towards having the shot clocks in the fall,” Preller said.

Around the world the 3X3 game is huge, with more 110,000 officially registered players competing in sanctioned tournaments that draw talented athletes and large crowds in Europe and Asia. Some elite-level players have abandoned the traditional 5X5 game altogether. In addition to being a whole lot of fun, the 3X3 game is great for skill development and conditioning. Players learn the importance of spacing and movement, as well as executing plays at high tempo.

FIBA is staging major 3X3 basketball events around the world. (Photo courtesy of FIBA)

“As someone who spent 25 years as a high school coach I don’t believe there is anything better out of season than 3X3 basketball,” Preller said. “It is great training. It definitely gives players more touches than you get in 5X5, and it’s really great for developing fundamentals.”

One Minnesotan who understands that very well is Paige Bueckers of Hopkins, the #1 player in the class of 2020 and one of the premiere 17-year-old players in the world. Last summer, Bueckers and her USA teammates Aliyah Boston, Samantha Brunelle and Hailey Van Lith captured the women’s 3X3 national championship that was contested at the Spokane Hoopfest in Washington. The four then went on to win 3X3 gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Argentina.

“We want to be the gold standard”

AAU is aiming to grow the 3X3 game to create a steady pipeline of high-quality players for these competitions just as it has done in providing opportunities for potential collegiate players. “We have listened to what coaches and former players said out there across the country and around the world,” Preller said. “3X3 is going to be global and it’s going to be in the Olympics. AAU wants to stay fully in touch with what is going on in girls and boys basketball and not be trying to put it together after the fact. ”

The fall season is expected to have local tournaments every weekend to qualify for regional events that lead to a national championship. AAU wants to be the leader in growing the 3X3 game. “We plan to do the same thing for 3X3 basketball that we have done in 5X5,” Preller said. “We want to be the gold standard.”

For more information visit the tournament website at aauevents.com/3on3 or email aau3on3@gmail.com

Top photo: Paige Bueckers of Hopkins celebrated with her USA teammates after they won the 3X3 gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Argentina. (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)