With the announcement that 3X3 basketball has been included as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Australia's women are set to take on the world at the 2017 FIBA 3X3 World Cup in Nantes, France from June 17-21.
Carley Mijovic, Nadeen Payne, Amelia Todhunter and Rebecca Cole depart for France on Thursday, and despite a lack of experience in playing the shorter form of the game, they are focused on challenging for a medal.
"None of us have ever competed in 3X3 before," explained Cole in speaking with The Pick and Roll. "However we want to go and win! With the sport now in the Olympics, we really want to put our best foot forward and do our best for our country."
With the team members tied up with relevant state league commitments across two states, preparing for the World Cup has proven to be a challenge. Cole explained that the players have been doing everything they can to best prepare for their 3X3 tournament debuts.
"We need to be best prepared," added Cole. "Today we had a great training session down in Frankston."
Missing only Payne who had playing commitments interstate, the session at Frankston came about following an offer of support by Matt Hollard of CLB3X3.
"Matt [Hollard] called me up to wish us the best of luck [for the World Cup]," said Cole. "He offered some help if we needed it and we took up his offer as we are still learning about the 3X3 format. A few calls later and we were down at Frankston training and playing against some of the locals."
One of those locals just so happened to be Australian Boomer Ryan Broekhoff, who had only recently just returned home following another successful season in Russia with Lokomotiv Kuban.
"It was great when we saw Ryan [Broekhoff] walk in to help us out too," added Cole. "It was really good to have him there, for him to offer some advice and then go up against him as well. He really helped a lot. He knows the European style of play too, and given we are grouped with Ukraine and the Netherlands, that advice really helps.
"It was so nice of him to come down to help us out at late notice, as it was with the other local guys that stepped in to help too. They were all really fantastic and have helped us prepare for the World's this week."
Despite not being able to train together as a complete team, all the players have been watching FIBA 3X3 online and conducting some research on their group opponents,
"We have been doing our homework," further explained Cole. "We have all been waiting FIBA 3X3 events online, and yes we know who we are playing in our round games. "I have spoken to Kelly Bowen, who has participated in this competition before, and she has suggested we go and watch our opponents train when we arrive as that will help out even more."
It has been some time since Cole last pulled on a green and gold jersey to represent Australia. She outlined that she could not wait to represent her country on the world stage once again.
"I'm so excited to be able to pull on the green and gold, something I have not done since the U19 World's. I'm really pumped! It's even more exciting now that it is also in the Olympics. When you think about it, we now have two opportunities to play at the Olympics."
While Cole shared that she still hoped to play for the Opals in future, she now also had to seriously consider the 3X3 format as an option moving forward.
"It [3X3] is a new modern game, and it is exciting to see what it is all about," said Cole. "3X3 suits my style of play too - it is up-tempo and very aggressive. I'm very lucky to get to be a part of it.
"Who knows...if you work your butt off - something good could come of it."
In 2016, Australia narrowly missed the quarterfinals, an outcome that they will be looking to improve upon as well as their current 19th world ranking. In France, they have been drawn in Pool C and will take on 6th ranked Ukraine, China (11th), Japan (14th) and the Netherlands (3rd) across three days before all finals are played on June 21. It will be a tough group to qualify for the quarterfinals from, but a challenge that this experienced and balanced line-up can tackle.
While the Australian women will head to France with ambitions for a first ever medal in this format, the inclusion of the sport in the Olympics is something that basketballers down under should look to embrace. It is a sentiment that is shared by Hollard, who also spoke with The Pick and Roll.
"The inclusive of 3X3 in the Olympics is an absolute game changer for the sport of basketball." said Hollard. "It provides so many more opportunities for our youth to engage in a global sport. Sports superstars have been born from shorter forms of their game and 3X3 is no different and will do the same. It's a nice little bit of icing on the cake for all of us who have worked so tirelessly at CLB for the last couple of years to be the leader of 3X3 delivery in Australia.
"We look forward to seeing the Australian team perform well in France, and hopefully see them come home with a medal."
Schedule | Australian 3×3 Open Women’s FIBA3X3 World Championship (all times AEST)
June 18 | Australia vs Ukraine @ 1:20am June 18 | Australia vs China @ 2:50am June 20 | Australia vs Japan @ 2:00am June 20 | Australia vs Netherlands @ 4:50am June 21-22 | Quarter Finals (from 10:50pm) – Gold Medal Game (5:00am)
Check the FIBA 3X3 YouTube channel for live streaming of games.
NOTE: Australia was unable to qualify any men’s team for the event due to their lowly world ranking, ultimately a combination of a lack of events being staged and not enough players participating. The FIBA 3X3 Individual World Ranking takes into account the number of points collected by players across the last 12 months. National Federations are ranked according to the aggregate points tallied by their Top 100 nationals in the 3X3 Individual World Ranking in each category (men, women, U18 men, U18 women), who have a confirmed 3x3planet.com account (more on this here). New Zealand who are ranked 20th qualified ahead of Australia who languishes in 56th place.