Australia in a hustle to qualify 3X3 champions for Tokyo 2020

3X3 basketball continues to build in Australia, with the NBL officially hosting their first 3X3 'Big' Hustle events in Adelaide and Perth this weekend. These ahead events follow in the footsteps of two recent CLB3X3 tournaments held in Port Adelaide and Hamilton (Victoria) that proved the shorter form of the game is on the rise.

With CLB3X3 having taken the lead in the Australian 3X3 space two years ago, the 3X3 Hustle's arrival on the scene is good news for Australia's Olympic aspirations, as more events means more opportunities for participation, more exposure for the sport, and of course more FIBA 3X3 world ranking points.

Therefore it would only be natural to compare the 3X3 Hustle to CLB3X3. So when registrations opened for the Big Hustle events, the $160 team registration fee and mandatory purchase of a $66 an NBL owned First Ever branded uniform for each player drew criticism from many.

When compared to the standard $90 team entry fee for the established CLB3X3 events, the $106 cost per player to participate in a 3X3 Hustle tournament seems exorbitant. The high cost of team entry--almost double that of their 3X3 rivals--coupled with the mandatory purchase of a uniform, were two points raised with NBL Chief Operating Officer Andy Crook.

"We don't see them as a direct competitor," explained Crook in speaking with The Pick and Roll when queried on the cost of participation in comparing the 3X3 Hustle and CLB3X3 tournaments.

"We feel as though we are building something new and unique. We have $5,000 in prize money for each Big Hustle, with $2,500 on the line for both men and women's open events. The fees are higher, we have prize money for the winners, and we offer a pathway, with the winners also gaining direct entry into the Pro Hustle. We have a different model to the incumbent operators."

Crook would go on to explain that their model was based on providing a pathway for 3X3 aspirants. Along with Big Hustle events, there would also be four Pro Hustle tournaments, which would then culminate in Australia's first FIBA 3X3 Challenger event in 2018, adding that an invitation to a FIBA 3X3 World Tour event would also be on offer. In 2019, further expansion would see the addition of Street and Urban Hustle tournaments.

When queried on the mandatory purchase of the First Ever branded uniforms, Crook explained that it was a quality outfit at a reasonable price, and that it could be used by players for any future 3X3 Hustle events that they may enter in, and that over time he expected the prices would come down even further.

"We are just starting," advised Crook. "We will continue to adapt and change as may be required."

Well change happened, and fast! Just a day after raising the cost concerns with Crook, the entry prices were dropped and a 25% discount on uniform purchases was introduced.

"We have reduced U18 tournament entry to just $40 per team," said Crook in a follow-up call. "Open team entry is now also $80, while we are also offering a 25% discount on uniform purchases. We will also be refunding the difference to those who have already paid. We will continue to adapt and change things as we see the need."

Although it was hard not to get excited by the vision for the 3X3 Hustle as outlined by Crook, it was difficult to look past the eerie similarities with CLB3X3. However Crook disagreed.

"We feel as though no-one has ever really made the sport work in any really meaningful way [in Australia]," further added Crook.

"We will attract some of Australia's best talent, including from the NBL. We will be delivering 3X3 the way it is meant to be - outdoor, in iconic locations...and it will be a bit more than just a court in a warehouse.

"I am respectful of what Matt [Hollard and CLB3X3] have built with basketball. Yet we are professional, we are building basketball as a business, and we will be leveraging the NBL's network to make this a success."

With Crook providing one point of view, we caught up with CLB3X3 General Manager Matt Hollard. He explained his vision for CLB3X3, and it was not too dissimilar.

"We welcome 3X3 Hustle into the marketplace, as we have been doing this for two years already," outlined Hollard.

"I guess there are some similarities, but we have the experience behind us. We are hosting up to 15 FIBA 3X3 endorsed major events in both capital cities and regional areas on accredited outdoor courts in iconic locations in line with the streetball nature of the sport. We have strong council partnerships and major event alignments to deliver a carnival-like atmosphere across all ages and abilities.

"CLB3X3 Elite is our feature category at each tournament, with a pathway through to FIBA 3X3 Challenger and World Tour events possible, just like our CLB3X3 Townsville team achieved last year in Mongolia.

"We also deliver a corporate cup event on the Friday night of each event, and everyone who takes part having a fantastic experience."

iAthletic continue dominance in first Big Hustle

While CLB3X3 has tournaments and experience under their belt, the NBL's 3X3 Hustle had their first crack at hosting events in Adelaide and Perth this weekend.

An iAthletic branded squad under the guidance of Dave Biwer has dominated the CLB3x3 competitions around the country. Featuring the NBL's Tommy Greer alongside Nunawading SEABL trio Tom Wright, Andrew Steel and Simon Conn, they would go on to win the South Australian leg too over a Gym Food Australia side boasting CLB3X3 Townsville star Luke Schenscher and Illawarra Hawk Oscar Forman who made his 3X3 debut.

Steel entered the tournament as Australia's second ranked FIBA 3X3 player, having climbed the pecking order thanks to taking part in CLB3X3's events, and according to Hollard, will take over the mantle as the number 1 player thanks this his side's win. Former NBA and NBL star Luke Schenscher who featured for CLB3X3 Townsville last year will join Oscar Forman in his 3X3 debut. Over in Perth, Josh Garlepp who played on the same CLB3X3 Townsville side in 2017 that played in a FIBA 3X3 Challenger event in Mongolia, linked with another former NBL player in Ben Purcer.

Both the Adelaide and Perth events experienced their fair share of teething issues too, with few teams entered and reports of teams pulling out at the last-minute.

"That's what we have been through already," added Hollard. "It is not as easy as people think in running a 3X3 event in Australia."

Hollard explained that the next two CLB3X3 events would coincide with the 2018 Commonwealth Games festival, with Mackay hosting an event being run across Easter, from Saturday March 31 to Monday April 2, while Townsville will follow on Friday April 6 to Monday April 9.

"We have received great support from the Mackay Regional Council and Townsville City Council to hold these events, said Hollard. "The Australian Opals are also based in Mackay as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games, and we are expecting a great turnout."

The next Big Hustle events are penciled in for Belconnen in the ACT on 17 March, followed by Mount Gravatt in QLD on 25 March and Marrara in the NT on 31 March.

All Australian 3X3 events can be entered via FIBA3X3 Planet HERE.

A mad scramble to qualify for Tokyo

With the increase in the number of 3X3 activity in Australia, Basketball Australia General Manager Competitions, Paul Maley explained that the possibility of Australia sending a team to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was a real possibility.

"We [Basketball Australia] have backed the NBL to take the sport to the next level through their marketing and promotion, and they have only just started," shared Maley in speaking with The Pick and Roll.

Maley attempted to explain the complex qualification system for the Tokyo games, ultimately outlining that it will take a 'mad scramble' to ensure Australia's teams were inside the Top 20-24 ranked teams, ensuring that they would have a chance to play in a qualifying event. Even then, it would likely only result in one team--either men's or women's--being in a position to represent Australia if they met all the criteria.

"The 12 [3X3 Hustle] events should put Australia in the frame," said Maley. "CLB3X3 events still are of benefit and importance too as they offer [FIBA 3X3] ranking points as well."

Australia have moved up to 42 in the men's world rankings, while the women are in 33rd place in the latest FIBA3X3 world rankings. There remains much work ahead to enable Australia any chance for qualifying for the Olympics.

With the NBL's 3X3 Hustle joining CLB3X3 on the national 3X3 stage, only time will judge their success. Let's hope they can co-exist and work together for the benefit of the sport and to see Australia's presence bolstered on the world stage.