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Australian men and women embark on FIBA 3x3 World Cup qualification quest
Australia's men's and women's 3x3 teams head to San Juan, Puerto Rico this weekend as they look to qualify for the 2019 FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Amsterdam starting on 11 June.
Three places remain in the World Cup draw in each category, with Australia sending two teams that feature the country's top two ranked players, topped up with local NBL and WNBL talent.
FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup 2018 winners Australia have been grouped with hosts Puerto Rico, Czech Republic and Romania in Group B in the men’s draw. On the women’s side, Asia Cup 2018 bronze medalists Australia will join Estonia, Uganda and hosts Puerto Rico in Pool A.
The men are headlined by the top two ranked 3x3 players in Australia, in Nunawading Spectres NBL1 duo Andrew Steel and Tom Wright, leaders of Melbourne iAthletic, the 28th ranked pro team in the world. They are joined by Perth Wildcats veteran Greg Hire and Illawarra Hawks mainstay Tim Coenraad in rounding out the team.
Steel is the only Australian ranked inside the Top 100 players in the world in being ranked 90, while Wright enters the event listed at 105. Hire's ranking of 13,300 and Coenraad's 939 highlight their relative inexperience in the shorter form of the game.
Steel and Wright return from Australia's 2018 FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup gold medal-winning campaign, with the star of that event - Tom Garlepp - unable to commit to the national program due to his in 2019 due to work commitments.
WNBL stars Bec Cole (1,725) and Alice Kunek (3,794) headline the Australian women's team as the top two ranked players from down under. They link with fellow WNBL stars Keely Froling and Marena Whittle to form a dynamic quartet.
Cole and Froling were part of the bronze medal side from last year’s Asia Cup. Cole, who earned All-Star selection at that event, is Australia’s highest ranked player and had proven herself at this level before. Froling (4,477), like Kunek, has experience at this level, while Whittle (17,503), has played sparingly at 3x3 level.
Australia’s men enter the event as the 26th ranked nation in the world, well behind Pool B rivals Romania (14th) and the Czech Republic (18th), with the hosts coming in at 40th. In women’s event, Australia enters proceedings with a world ranking of 24 a number that pales in comparison to 6th ranked Estonia. Uganda is ranked 21st, while Puerto Rico ranks a lowly 76.
The two countries that advance to the event final for both men and women will book their tickets to the World Cup, while the playoff for third will determine the last remaining World Cup participant.
With Steel and Wright at the helm, the men will commence against the Czech Republic on Sunday morning at 7:30am AEST. Their next challenge will be against host nation Puerto Rico at 9:10am, before finishing their pool games on Monday against Romania at 4:00am.
Cole will lead the women in their first pool game against Uganda on Sunday morning at 6:40am AEST. They then play host nation Puerto Rico at 8:20am, before facing Estonia on Monday at 1:50am.
All matches of the 2019 FIBA 3x3 World Cup Qualifiers will be streamed on the FIBA 3x3 Facebook page and YouTube channel.