June 10, 2024 

Team USA’s 3×3 Olympic team blends experience with versatility

Burdick, Brink, Van Lith and Howard headed to Paris

The United States is entering the 3×3 competition at the 2024 Olympics as the defending champions. USA Basketball announced last week that Cierra Burdick, Cameron Brink, Hailey Van Lith and Rhyne Howard will represent the U.S. this summer in Paris. Although the four players selected to the team are a separate quartet than the one from Tokyo in 2021, they are familiar with winning at the international level. One year ago, Burdick, Brink and Van Lith led Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA 3×3 World Cup in Vienna, while Howard has been a jewel for USA Basketball over the years.

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“There is definitely an emphasis on experience,” head coach Jennifer Rizzotti told The Next. “Having played the game in a lot of high-pressure situations is an advantage for the players who are in that scenario. I think Rhyne Howard is an exceptional talent to build around because she can score the ball. But I think the commitment to the players who helped us get to the Olympics and had a lot of experience was certainly an emphasis.”

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Last November, Team USA qualified for the Paris Games as one of the top two ranked teams in the world, along with China. This spring, Canada, Germany, Spain, Azerbaijan and Australia punched tickets through qualifying tournaments. Along with host France, the eight teams will play a round robin tournament July 30-Aug. 3. The semifinals and final will be on Aug. 5.

(From left) Rhyne Howard, Cierra Burdick and Hailey Van Lith compete in a 3x3 tournament in Springfield, Mass. The trio, along with Cameron Brink, were named to the 2024 Team USA 3x3 Olympic team by USA Basketball recently. (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)
(From left) Rhyne Howard, Cierra Burdick and Hailey Van Lith compete in a 3×3 tournament in Springfield, Mass. The trio, along with Cameron Brink, were named to the 2024 Team USA 3×3 Olympic team by USA Basketball recently. (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

A coach on the court

Burdick is one of the most-experienced 3×3 players in the world. The 30-year-old former Tennessee Lady Vol owns two 3×3 World Cup titles, plus one from the AmeriCup and Pan-American Games. She has been a constant on the FIBA 3×3 Women’s Series the past four seasons as well.

“The whole situation makes me speechless, and it’s rare to make me speechless,” Burdick joked in her phone call with The Next. “I started playing 3×3 in 2014, and 10 years later to be playing in the Olympic games is an honor. Really a dream come true. It’s a blessing.

“There are not a lot of experiences and scenarios I have not been in when it comes to 3×3 play. One of my strengths as a basketball player is my IQ. Just to be able to soak up the scout, the knowledge and preparation that Jen and [assistant] Tammi [Reiss] put before us and being able to implement that in games. Being a coach on the floor is not something I take lightly.”

Having an extension of herself on the court is an element Rizzotti pleaded with the selection committee for. Keep in mind that in 3×3, the coaches are not present courtside. Rizzotti and Burdick go back a long way. Rizzotti said not only can Burdick improve younger, college-aged athletes, but those inexperienced with 3×3.

“She was able to put them in position to be successful,” Rizzotti said. “She was able to, on the fly, organize her team and make the right calls.”

Burdick added that she is looking forward to being around the world’s greatest athletes and soaking in every moment.

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Howard’s versatility is key

At 24, Rhyne Howard is establishing herself as one of the world’s star players. The Atlanta Dream guard led Team USA with 19.5 points per game during its 5×5 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgium this February. In April, she joined Burdick, Van Lith and Lexie Hull at the 3×3 Women’s Series event in Springfield, Mass. Howard led the event in scoring, but the team placed second to Canada.

“[Rhyne] has a high basketball IQ,” Rizzotti said. “I think in 3×3, you need to understand the game quickly. If you haven’t played the game a lot, you need to understand the strategy quickly. So having a high IQ is certainly helpful. She is very versatile. Positionally, you can put her as a screener, as a shooter, you can post her up — and defensively, she has the versatility to guard across the board.”

According to her USA Basketball bio, prior to Springfield, Howard last played 3×3 at the 2019 Red Bull Nationals, winning the silver medal. Since then, she was MVP of the 2021 AmeriCup on the 5×5 level, in addition to working out in other senior national team events.

Burdick added that playing with a talent like Howard will “make her job easy.” She said that she will put Howard in the best position to succeed and brush her up on the defensive nuances that might be unfamiliar.

Brink more confident from outside

A 6’4 rookie for the Los Angeles Sparks, Cameron Brink was the MVP of last year’s 3×3 World Cup. Her 3×3 experience goes back to the 2018 Under-18 National Championships.

“I think that people saw Cam’s potential to dominate 3×3 because she takes up so much of the court,” Rizzotti said. “… to create space, to have a player who can remove that space for you, because of her length and her quickness, is such an asset. What I also have seen from her, is this offensive versatility. She is more confident shooting the outside shot, she is more confident putting the ball on the floor. Her guard skills have improved. Again, 3×3 is positionless. So you need to have that confidence that you can score at three levels, in addition to posting up and offensive rebounding.”

From youth to senior Olympian

Hailey Van Lith’s 3×3 resume goes back to winning the gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. Her decorated career includes winning the Under-18 3×3 World Cup, as well. The 5’7 guard will be playing for TCU this fall after transferring from LSU.

“For Hailey, her game is suited for 3×3,” Rizzotti added. “She is the kind of player who benefits from that space. There are less opportunities to help on her when she gets downhill. She can use her physical strength to create opportunities to score. She is relentless defensively, is never going to stop playing hard and has a good desire to being a lock-down defender.”

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Burdick has also been able to watch the growth of Van Lith in the past two years.

“When we played together in the 2022 World Cup,” Burdick said, “[Hailey] was trying to do it herself and rely on her one-on-one play. She is a heck of a one-on-one player. But it’s hard to maintain that for an entire 3×3 game, and especially an entire tournament. I think I earned Hailey’s trust now, and she respects my leadership. She knows I am going to get her the ball in the best position to be successful. The more team ball you can play in 3×3, the better.”

If anything will dampen the Americans’ pursuit of gold in Paris, it will be the prep time. Due to their WNBA schedules, the full group of four will not be together until July 18 in Phoenix. Rizzotti noted that other countries will be playing together and that negates the talent she has. Meanwhile, Burdick said she and Van Lith, who are not competing in the WNBA, will join Rizzotti on June 24 in Connecticut for a mini training camp with some practice players.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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