Basketball New Zealand 3x3 Manager, David Huxford, attended the FIBA U18 3x3 World Championships in Kazakhstan in June. While there he met with FIBA to get an understanding of the future of 3x3 globally and how New Zealand can be involved. He also helped with team logistics on tour.
"Kazakhstan? Where on earth is that?" That was the usual reaction when I told friends and family that I'd be going to the FIBA U18 3x3 World Championships in Astana, the Capital of Kazakhstan. Situated in Central Asia, to the left of China and Mongolia, below Russia and above all the other ‘Stans’ lies Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world and the dominant country in Central Asia. Astana is situated in the north of the country and is surrounded by steppe (large grassy plains) that extend as far as the eye can see. Astana is a relatively new capital having been formed in 1997.
Upon arrival in the early hours of Saturday morning the teams quickly settled into the hotel. Part of my role quickly became evident as the interpreter, mainly because I had Google Translate on my phone, but also because I had a knack of mangling other languages. We arrived a few days ahead of game day, mainly to recover from the 48 hours of travel. The first task was to sort out a training venue and transport, which we achieved with the assistance of Alex from the Local Organising Committee (LOC). The local American School, QSI, would become our base for trainings for the next four days, which we shared with the local Kazakhstan teams, giving us the opportunity to scrimmage. Getting the players accustomed to a new diet proved harder than expected but luckily the “Mega” mall was just across the road and had a very good food hall.
The Championships started on Wednesday for the girl’s team and Thursday for the boy’s, each playing two games per day (four games total in the pool play rounds). Each team also had a 20 minute practice per day at the competition venue, so the daily schedule meant a lot of shuttling between the hotel, lunch and competition venues, which were all too far to walk.
The management team of Coach Anthony Corban (Corb’s), Team Manager Leanne Walker and myself would meet each night to plan what would be very full schedules for the next day. Anthony and Leanne then spent hours scouting other teams for the following day’s games. My role was to prepare the daily schedule, get the pre-game meals from across the road at the mall (using a combination of sign language and the few Russian words I’d picked up), and chaperone the team to lunch/practice if Corb’s and Leanne were already with the other team at a game.
There are also three individual skills competitions held at World Championships; Slam Dunk event, 3-point Shootout and Women’s Skills event. Hamish McDonald won silver in the shootout event, which added a silver lining to what was to be a bit of a difficult final competition day for the teams. Both teams progressed through to the quarter finals, the only country to have two teams progress. The girl’s missed out narrowly to the Czech Republic, but finished an admirable fifth. The boy’s won their quarter final against a feisty team from Uruguay. They then played Qatar in the semi-final, which was made up of professional foreign nationals, which was a point of discussion amongst many of the teams there.
Expectations were high as current World Champions, but it wasn’t to be our day. The loss to Qatar meant a third place playoff against Italy, who won leaving the men in fourth place overall.
Our players should be proud of what they achieved while in Kazakhstan. The girls walked away with their best ever ranking and played some spectacular 3x3. The boys were a crowd favourite for both their on-court plays and the ever popular haka. Tai Wynyard was kept busy as the media face for FIBA as well as helping out the Olympic Channel with their segment on 3x3. He was also named on the All-Tournament team.
Being my first experience of travelling away with a team(s), I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say it’s no holiday. My hat goes off to all those coaches, team managers, physios and other team management that spend hours organising the logistics of a travelling team. As for the World Championships, would I do it again given what I know now? Without hesitation!
FIBA AND 3x3 AT THE OLYMPICS
During the event I attended the FIBA 3X3 seminar for country managers, where FIBA representatives gave an overview of their future vision of 3x3 and best practice in administration of the sport. By all accounts it seems that we are doing most things right in New Zealand, however the need for all players to have a confirmed 3x3planet.com profile was made abundantly clear, as that is the pathway for federations to be eligible for World Championship events.
There was also a lot of talk about ‘when’ it is announced that 3x3 will be in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as opposed to ‘if’ it will be announced. Should 3x3 become an Olympic event, it will be interesting to see FIBA’s qualification criteria, especially when qualification for all other FIBA 3x3 events are derived from a ranking system based on a complex algorithm of points earned by players and federations.
Another reason I went to World Championships was to gauge what goes into a FIBA 3x3 World event. I got to speak to the LOC and FIBA about the latter. It was clear to me that it takes a lot of money to stage one of these events and a lot of people on the ground to run it. It’s not likely that New Zealand will host such an event in the near future, or as long as FIBA enforce their Northern Hemisphere-centric view of when the World Championships should be held… always in June, which is not an ideal hosting month for New Zealand. Having said that, there are future opportunities closer to home that would provide a more affordable hosting model such as the FIBA Oceania 3x3 Zone Championships.
My time in Astana was an eye-opening insight into the inner workings of FIBA 3x3 and also into what it takes to manage the logistics around travelling teams. 3x3 in New Zealand is in good shape, but it’s vitally important that the country embraces this discipline so that we can continue to send our teams away to world events. The more people who play 3x3 and have a confirmed 3x3planet.com profile, meaning that they responded to the email sent to them when they set up their account, then the more chance we have of being eligible for these events.
We’ve got some very talented 3x3 players in New Zealand that deserve a chance on the world stage. So, my first task on returning to the office has been to do a data clean-out of player profiles. Next, I’ll be concentrating on getting that top 100 U18 boy’s/girl’s and Open men’s/women’s players confirmed on 3x3planet, so that their points help us get our teams to world events. Planning is already underway for the next Burger King 3X3 Quest Tour so there’s going to be more 3x3 coming to you soon.