Australia is set to be represented for the first time on the FIBA 3X3 World Tour, with the top team from the Australian summer set to take part in the second event to be held in Utsunomiya, Japan from July 28-29.
Fresh of their domination of the 3X3 Hustle and CLB 3X3 circuits during the Australian summer, Melbourne iAthletic will take part in the second leg of the seventh edition of the FIBA 3X3 World Tour.
Melbourne iAthletic, who finished a close second to Prian in the first FIBA3X3 Challenger held in Australia in Sydney earlier this year, will not be suiting up the top two ranked Australian players in Andrew Steel (1) and Tom Wright (2), while Simon Conn will also miss due to their SEABL commitments with the Nunawading Spectres who will be commencing their finals campaign. Rhys Carter, Rhys Martin and Tommy Greer (4) will team up with FIBA 3X3 Asia Cup MVP Tom Garlepp (3).
A second Australian team from Brisbane was set to take part also, but were a late withdrawal due to unforseen circumstances.
Auckland and Piran who also featured in the FIBA3X3 Challenger event in Sydney, will also take part in the Japanese leg of the World Tour. It was current world number 3 ranked Piran from Slovenia who managed to account for Melbourne iAthletic in the final in Sydney, and will be one of the teams to beat once again. Auckland feature four of New Zealand's five top ranked 3X3 players, including Karl Noyer.
Teams from Serbia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, China, Korea, India, Mongolia and host country Japan will also take part in the 14-team tournament, following the first World Tour opening in Saskatoon, Canada.
Reigning World Tour champions Zemun (SRB) who are ranked 4th in the world, will enter the Utsunomiya Masters as one of the favourites, and will arrive in Japan fresh from finishing in fifth place in the Saskatoon Masters - the opening event on the World Tour. However they were trumped by fellow Serbian outfit and world number 1 team Novi Sad, who defeated Liman (SRB) in the final. Runner-up Liman will also feature in the Utsunomiya Masters and will prove tough competition for the Aussie contingent.
The World Tour is the next step up from a Challenger event, with only the best teams from across the world invited to participate. The tour has increased from 8 to 10 events in 2018, with over USD$1 million on offer. The winners of each World Tour event earn a direct slot to the World Tour Final to be held in Beijing, China from Octover 27-28. The remaining World Tour Final participants will be based on the World Tour standings after the last event prior to the tour final.
Despite the stiff competition, Melbourne iAthletic will like their chances of success in Japan following encouraging performances at home and abroad over the last 12 months. Australia won the 2018 FIBA 3X3 Asian Cup, and more recently, Melbourne iAthletic also came a close second to Piran in the FIBA3X3 Ulaanbaatar Challenger in Mongolia.
With 3X3 basketball set to make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Australia will need to continue compiling ranking points if they are to have any chance of qualifying, currently ranked 28th in the world.