New Olympic dream opens for WNBL stars in 3×3 basketball

Maddie Garrick still dreams of playing for the Opals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Melbourne Boomers guard has every right to do so as she has already represented Australia at last year’s FIBA Asia Cup and will likely be among the 25 or so players pushing for a place on the Opals roster for this year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.

But an invite to try three on three basketball, known as 3×3, earlier this year has offered Garrick and some other WNBL stars a way to chase an Olympic berth outside of the 12 prized Opals spots.

Garrick was part of Australia’s side which won the bronze medal at the 3×3 Asia Cup in China last week, alongside WNBL players Bec Cole and Keely Froling plus SEABL star Carlie Smith.

Cole played Australia in the 3×3 World Cup last year and made the all tournament team at the Asia Cup this time while Smith has also played previously.

But Garrick had only played in a single 3×3 Pro Hustle event before being offered a place in the Australian side.

She took it, played well and admits while it hasn’t altered her goals, it has opened her eyes to new possibilities – 3×3 basketball will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo and will also be in the next Commonwealth Games instead of full basketball so, at 26, Garrick should be right in the frame for those events.

“I’m keeping my mind open to international experience and I know that’s something I need for the Opals and was the feedback that [Opals coach] Sandy Brondello gave me,” Garrick said.

“Some aspects of 3×3 translate to five-on-five basketball but my dream has always been to play on a five-on-five team at the Olympics but if that didn’t work out and you had this opportunity to represent your country in basketball it would be nice to have it in your back pocket.”

Having played in two major 3×3 events, Cole is embracing the short game and it fits her talents and basketball IQ well.

The big issue for players and nations is to gain as many ranking points as possible and that comes from staging more local events. Australia was slow to push this but is starting to catch up.

Australia fared well at the Asia Cup, winning gold in the men’s event and bronze in the women’s event but when the FIBA 3×3 World Cup tips off in the Philippines in June neither side will be in the field due to Australia's lack of rankings points.

As it stands, full-time players like Cole and Garrick can fit 3×3 events in either side of the WNBL season which remains their number one priority and job. Keeping that balance will be essential if BA wants its best players available.

“It looks like it will be more in the off-season of WNBL at this point in time which is good as I still want to play WNBL, play five-on-five and face the best players in the country,” Cole said.

Basketball Australia and the NBL teamed up this year to launch 3×3 Hustle, a national competition which has games from local level right up to the “Pro Hustle” which involves elite players playing for prizemoney.

CLB 3×3 has been operating 3×3 events for several years and continues to run its own tour around the country.

The latest Pro Hustle event will be at Docklands Studios this Sunday, starting at 9am and while Cole has SEABL commitments with Melbourne Tigers, Garrick will be backing up from the Asia Cup by playing in the event, along with fellow Boomers Monique Conti and Jasmine Simmons.

The short busts and physicality of 3×3 basketball still exhausts players but Garrick is confident she will be ready and hopes to push her Boomers side onto a tournament win after the Australian team lost a heartbreaking semi-final to New Zealand, which forced them into the bronze medal game in China.

“We really should have been in the gold medal match but that’s sport and anything can happen,” Garrick said.

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