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Coenraad, Kunek reflect on Australia's dual FIBA 3x3 World Cup qualification
Faster, tighter play. Three players on a half court per side challenging each other with just a single hoop.
3x3 basketball is the largest urban team sport in the world and its popularity and hype is only continuing to grow.
The FIBA 3x3 World Cup for men and women are the pinncle for national 3x3 representation, and last weekend in Puerto Rico, both Australian teams successfully qualified. They now will head to Amsterdam for the World Cup from 18-23 June.
Day two of the qualifiers would require both teams to step up, with the women holding a 2-0 record, while the men entered proceedings with a 1-1 split, having fallen to host nation Puerto Rico in a physical battle. Only the top three spots in the event would provide qualification for the World Cup which only added pressure to the Australians.
The women began day two against Estonia, winning comfortably 22-8 to finish as pool leaders with a 3-0 record.
The men took a 22-10 win over Romania in their last pool game, finishing second in Pool B to advance to the next round. Their next opponent would be the Italians, which would prove to be a crucial clash. The men in green and gold took a 21-12 result, staving off elimination and keeping their hopes alive.
With the Australian women holding the lead of their group, they would advance straight to a qualifying game against Brazil. From the first play of that game, Rebecca Cole and Alice Kunek showed their tenacity and skilful play to really mess with the Brazilian defence. They would go on to prevail 21-3 in a dominant display, booking their spot in the World Cup.
Kunek was a huge contributor, connecting on multiple two-point field goals from beyond the arc, while Cole looking unstoppable off the dribble. Kunek reflected on the tournament as well as what their success meant.
“Winning gold at the Commonwealth Games was pretty hard to top, but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had," explained Kunek.
"We had such a great squad who really got along and I think that came out on the court. We were tough and prided ourselves on our defence.
"Every chance you get to put on the green and gold is an honour. After missing out on the squad for the World’s , to be able to go to the World Cup for any basketball, is so special. I feel so lucky to now put my best foot forward and 'let the cards fall as they may' referring to a potential spot on squad for 3x3 World Cup."
The women would go on to be undefeated, and barely challenged all tournament. However for the men, it was a different scenario.
Facing a testing final game against host nation Puerto Rico in front of a passionate home crowd, the Australians were forced to play out the remainder of the tournament with no bench relief after Andrew Steel was forced to sit due to a groin injury sustained. With the pride of representing their country as motivation, Tom Wright and Tim Coenraad showed their firepower from the perimeter, with Wright continuing to impress as one of the premier players at the tournament.
It was a high intensity match-up which required great physicality from our players who came away with a loss 21-18 to the tournament hosts. With the Puerto Ricans punching their ticket to the World Cup, the Australian men had earned a final last shot at joining them in Amsterdam with a sudden death contest against the Czech Republic. With Steel sidelined due to injury, the Australian's went into the final with just four fit players.
The fatigue was there to see after the Puerto Ricans had taken a lot out of the squad only an hour earlier. In that moment and with the hope of our nation on his shoulders, Coeenraad lifted with a barrage of two-pointers, leading his squad to victory 21-11.
“I caught fire," explained Coenraad.
"It took a while but I got there. I got lucky to make the Australian squad – I know the reality that many people could not play in the qualifiers or declined for some reason, but for me it has been a dream for me to represent my country.
"For me, that is the tippy top of what to aspire to as an Australian, so proud of sporting and events, it has always been what I’ve aimed for.
"Australia isn’t viewed as a 3x3 country as we are fairly new to it, but to be able to show that we can compete on that level against teams that have a bit more experience shows the character of the four guys we took away and that 3x3 basketball in Australia is really on the rise.”
The win against the Czech Republic saw the Australians as the last team to book their place in the World Cup. And from the sidelines, the Australian women gave them some much-needed support in the face of adversity.
“I think it was really important that we had formed that bond with the men, so when they were really down against Czech Republic, we were on the sidelines pushing them along and that was really important for us,” Kunek explained.
With both the men and women now set to compete in the World Cup, and the inclusion of 3x3 basketball in both the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, this was a vital step-forward in Australia’s quest in becoming a strong and proud 3x3 basketball nation.
Next stop, Amsterdam.