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Nation's 3x3 hoopsters 'fear no one' in Games debut

By CHEN XIANGFENG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-23 09:13
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Chinese players get a feel for the court at the Tokyo Olympics' 3x3 basketball venue-Aomi Urban Sports Park-in the Japanese capital on Wednesday. REUTERS

China's 3x3 basketball players are hoping to take Tokyo's courts by storm and stand on the podium in the sport's Olympic debut.

"I'm quite excited to be here and we look forward to facing off against Serbia in our first game and showcasing our style of play," Hu Jinqiu, a former center for Team China in the regular form of the game, said on Wednesday. "We have great unity, and everyone is prepared."

Joining star man Hu in the squad are Li Haonan, Yan Peng and Gao Shiyan.

After finishing their first training session at Aomi Urban Sports Park on Wednesday, Hu was buoyed by the quality of the courts and fine summer weather in Tokyo, and vowed China would not be overawed against world No 1 outfit Serbia in its opener.

"Mindset is very important for us. We must maintain a good mentality and play our best in every game," said Hu. "Unlike the traditional version of the sport, 3x3 is new at the Olympic Games and every team has a chance. So we will fear no one and try our utmost to deliver a good result."

Serbia's danger man is Dusan Bulut, who has led the global scoring rankings for years.

The Balkan country has won four out of the six World Cups since the inaugural tournament was staged in 2012. While most nations have players from five-a-side basketball who participate in 3x3, Serbia has developed the 3x3 game independently, sending professional teams to global championships and continually topping the rankings.

Hu, who plays for the Zhejiang Lions in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league, said 3x3 basketball is quite different from the traditional game, especially in terms of the rules.

Played on a half-court with one hoop, 3x3 features a 12-second shot clock, half the time used in the NBA and regular FIBA competitions. Coaches are not allowed courtside, forcing players to rely on their own strategies.

"3x3 basketball is a physically demanding sport with very fast switches between offense and defense," said Hu. "Players have to push their explosiveness in 10 to 20 minutes."

China is the defending women's world champion, but the favorite for gold in Tokyo is the United States-a squad that boasts four WNBA players, including Kelsey Plum.

The Chinese women won the 2018 Asian Games title and 2019 World Cup, but in Tokyo will be without 2019 stars Jiang Jiayin and Wu Di, who are absent due to injuries.

Zhang Zhiting, one of the best centers in China's WCBA league and a key player in the 2019 World Cup-winning team, will lead a young squad in Tokyo that also includes Wan Jiyuan, Yang Shuyu and Wang Lili.

Wan and Yang, both 19, have previously played in the national youth team, while the 28-year-old Wang is a multiple WCBA All-Star who starred at the 2018 Asian Games.

'Wide open'

Since the women's World Cup tipped off in 2012, the six editions of the tournament have delivered four different champions, with the US a two-time winner.

"Our target is to win a medal. I think the chance for a spot on the podium is wide open in Tokyo," said women's head coach Xu Jiamin, whose team will begin its campaign against Romania on Friday.

"Some familiar faces did not show in Tokyo because of injuries. It did interrupt our original plan, but I trust in our team's fresh blood. We are gearing up to deliver our best performance."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) added 3x3 basketball to the Olympic program in June 2017 as part of the organization's efforts to capture a more youthful audience for the Games.

With non-stop music accompanying the action to create an authentic urban atmosphere, 3x3 basketball certainly has all the ingredients to appeal to young people.

The eight men's teams in Tokyo are China, Serbia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and Japan.

The women's list features China, France, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, ROC, Romania and the United States.

FIBA, which emphasizes the "x" for branding, has teamed up with Hoop it Up-owned by former NBA star Kevin Garnett-to promote and organize the sport in the US.

FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis reckons Tokyo 2020 will trigger more growth for the game.

"We expect these opportunities to rise significantly as sports industry leaders watch a spectacular 3x3 event in Tokyo and some of our best athletes become national and international stars after winning Olympic medals," Zagklis said.

Xinhua contributed to this story

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