November 2, 2023 

How Azurá Stevens became a Pan-American Games gold medalist

'It's always a special opportunity, not to be taken for granted.'

The Pan-American Games marked another 3×3 victory for the USA women. While Cierra Burdick, Blake Dietrick and Lexie Hull are becoming familiar faces on the half-court scene, this was the first such event for Azurá Stevens. The 6’6 Los Angeles Sparks center arrived at the Games in Santiago, Chile, never playing the format before, but departed as a gold medalist.

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“It was my first time doing 3×3,” Stevens said, “so I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a great group. We had a great time out there. It was fun and definitely an adjustment from 5×5, but I enjoyed it. We got the gold. That was the main goal we achieved.”

So how did the former Duke Blue Devil and UConn Huskie wind up in South America? Stevens’ agent asked her about the opportunity and if she would be interested.

“I said, ‘Yeah, why not?'” the 27-year-old Stevens added. “I had never done 3×3, but it was a new challenge, something different to try out. I wanted to see how I liked it and what the differences would be. I like the pace; it is definitely a lot quicker. It pushed me mentally to be a little bit smarter because you are running a lot of actions against the other people. I also like the switch from defense to offense really quickly. It’s just a different type of challenge for changing gears from offense into defense.”

The US defeated Colombia, 21–14, in the final on Oct. 23, as Stevens recorded a game-high 11 points. The team ran the table against the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and host Chile in the previous games. It was a repeat of the inaugural Pan-American Games 3×3 event at Lima, Peru, in 2019.

Sparks center makes 3X3 debut in Chile
Azurá Stevens, from Raleigh, N.C., played in the 2018 Final Four with UConn. Photo courtesy of USA Basketball.

Stevens added that the shorter games and having no coach on the sideline were a challenge. She did credit Burdick and Dietrick for passing their experience to herself and the 24-year-old Hull. Although there was no coach on the sideline, Jen Rizzotti was their advisor and sat away from the court. Stevens also said she is open to more 3×3 opportunities in the future. This Pan-American Games also marked the first time the U.S. did not send a 5×5 team to the competition. The US had competed in every Pan-American Games women’s 5×5 tournament since the first in 1955, winning a medal each year except one, but elected not to participate. Brazil, with 41-year-old Erika de Souza on the roster, won the 5×5 gold medal over Colombia.

“I really enjoyed the opening ceremonies,” Stevens added of the overall Games environment. “Just being able to mingle with a lot of different athletes, and to see all of the different countries that were there. Just to be able to walk out, they really packed the arena. We walked out representing USA, and then seeing the different countries, I really enjoyed that a lot.”

Back with the red, white and blue

Not only was this Stevens’ first 3×3 competition, but she had not played with USA Basketball since the 2015 FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Chekhov, Russia. She won the gold medal there, starting on a frontcourt with A’ja Wilson and Napheesa Collier.

“It’s always an honor to represent the country,” Stevens said. “It’s always a special opportunity, not to be taken for granted. it was really cool just to be back with the USA across the chest, even though it was in a different light.”

Azurá Stevens had been involved in USAB camps, but not a team since 2015. Photo courtesy of USA Basketball.

Stevens played professionally for Galatasaray in Turkey last year. She said at this time, she is exploring opportunities to play in Europe this winter. However, she is not currently with a team.

In addition, on Nov. 1, the U.S. officially clinched a 3×3 women’s spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics, along with China and host France. This is due to their status as FIBA’s top three ranked teams.

The next Pan-American Games will be in Barranquilla, Colombia, in July 2027.

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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