Australia's first team to take part in a FIBA 3X3 Challenger event returned home without a win, however they may have taken the next step required for the sport to help take off back home in Australia.
Townsville traveled to Mongolia for the 2017 FIBA 3X3 Ulaanbaatar Challenger event with great expectations following their win in the CLB3X3 Summer Series Grand Final in Melbourne.
Five of the Top 15 teams in the FIBA 3x3 Team Rankings competed in Mongolia for the first edition of the Ulaanbaatar 3x3 Challenger. Boasting former NBL journeyman Luke Schenscher and state league players Tim Keating, Josh Garlepp and Cameron Springall, Townsville experienced cold and harsh conditions and even tougher competition, going 0-3 across their three games.
Keating spoke candidly about the conditions the team faced before returning home to Australia.
"The elements are harsh," said Keating. "Cold air in the lungs, and the altitude didn't help any of the teams' cause. It was super physical too - more like rucking in footy than basketball."
Opening the competition against Brazilian side Sao Paulo, Townsville found it difficult to score in the opening minutes and from there found it tough to get back into the contest. Using their speed and experience, Sao Paulo eventually prevailed 14-6 in one of the lowest scoring games of the competition.
Against Mongolian side Kvod, Townsville fared much better as they began to adapt to the game and the level of competition. While the Australians had their chances, it was the locals who managed to pull away for a 16-12 win.
On the final day of competition, Townsville would take on a young team from Liman, Serbia. In what proved to be their best game of the competition, the Australian's made the Serbians work for every point. However the eventual tournament champions overran their less-experienced opponents to win 22-15.
Despite not being able to come away with a win from their first Challenger, Garlepp was already looking ahead to their next opportunity.
"It was a very tough tournament with extremely experienced teams, said Garlepp. "We need to gain more 3x3 experience nationally to ready us for the next challenger."
It was a sentiment shared by Townsville's most experienced player who has played in US College, the NBA, Europe, Australia and in Asia.
"We learnt a lot and wish we could now go back and play again with the knowledge we now have," said Schenscher.
With FIBA lobbying the International Olympic Committee for 3X3 basketball to be included in the 2020 Tokyo games, Champions League Basketball (CLB) Marketing Manager Yvette Williams was excited about the future of the sport back home in Australia.
"With the looming announcement on whether 3x3 is going to become an Olympic sport just around the corner, and with what we just witnessed in Mongolia, this sport has the potential to become very big very quickly, said Williams.
"If Australia want half a shot at being up there with the likes of Liman (Serbia) and Ljubljana (Slovenia) [who performed strongly in Ulaanbaatar], we need to treat this like a completely different sport to the traditional 5x5 game. It was a real eye opener seeing just how physical it is, and just how fit you need to be."
CLB General Manager Matt Hollard agreed, and was looking forward to being able to turn the experience gained in Mongolia into something special in Australia.
"It was a fantastic learning experience all round from both an organisers point of view, and as the managers of a participating team," outlined Hollard. "We have gained valuable experience and knowledge on how to run a World Challenger when it is offered to us, hopefully as early as next year. FIBA are very keen for us to have one in Australia, which will give us a greater knowledge and understanding of what is required to eventually host a FIBA3x3 World Tour event in the coming years."
"The competition was tough, very tough and as good as it gets on the 3x3 world stage with the very best competing in Mongolia," Hollard further added. "It was a great test for our boys who come away from the tournament without a win on the court, but with many other lessons learnt and experiences gained on what we need to do as country to match the best around the globe in 3x3."
Australia was unable to qualify a men’s team for the 2017 FIBA 3x3 World Championships due to their lowly world ranking due as a result of a lack of events being staged and not enough players participating. Through growing the number and quality of CLB3X3 events across Australia, it was something that Hollard hoped would quickly be addressed.
"CLB3x3 have done a mountain of work in the last 12 months to help promote the game and give our players an opportunity to play the game here locally and get better at it," explained Hollard. "Essentially CLB3x3 have picked up the slack [in Australia] and it is reflected in the player ranking points and our federation ranking points within FIBA, as the large majority of the 3x3 activity in Australia has come through CLB3x3 events.
"I am extremely proud of the work that CLB have done and the efforts of all our players have made this season. We have a huge 2017/2018 CLB3X3 Summer League coming up with plenty more exciting announcements to come."