July 28, 2021 

How the U.S. women’s 3X3 team overcame obstacles to win gold

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Team U.S. became accustomed to change in claiming event's Olympic debut

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Team USA 3×3 women’s basketball team celebrating their gold medal win. Photo Credit: USA Basketball 3×3 Twitter Account

No matter how many players are on the court, the U.S. boasts the best women’s basketball teams in the world.

The U.S. won the gold medal in the Olympic debut of 3X3 basketball on Wednesday in Tokyo, 18-15, over the Russian Olympic Committee, continuing on the long run of success the 5X5 team established.

“We don’t know what’s down the road,” U.S. center Stefanie Dolson said, “but we hope we started some type of dynasty with 3X3 and this is just the beginning.”

The quartet of Dolson, Kelsey Plum, Allisha Gray, and Jackie Young, united to win the seventh-consecutive Olympic gold medal for the USA Basketball women’s program.

“To start the game, the emphasis was speed,” Dolson said. “We wanted to attack all of their pick and rolls, but towards the end of the game, the emphasis was to still be aggressive because we were in the double bonus and shooting two free throws and getting the ball back, which is huge. I thought we did a phenomenal job for the most part of limiting their two-point field goals.”

Plum equaled Wang Lili of China for the tournament’s most points with 55. She mentioned that the gold medal game was one year to the day that she took her first steps following Achilles surgery, and she would not have been here, had the Olympics not been delayed.

“I would say it’s the highest,” Plum said of what the medal meant in regards to her long resume of achievements. “An Olympic gold medal is something that I have always wanted to accomplish. Coming off the Achilles makes it extra sweet.”

The U.S. beat France 18-16 in the semifinal earlier in the day, and China would go on to win the bronze medal with a 16-14 win over the French. Latvia defeated the Russian Olympic Committee, 21-18, in the men’s final, which directly followed the women’s.

The gold medal game result was a reversal of the inaugural 5X5 women’s competition at Montreal in 1976 that saw the Soviet Union win the gold medal over the U.S.

“This group is a part of the beginning,” U.S. coach Kara Lawson said. “Years from now, when the story of 3X3 is told, it can’t be told without them winning the first gold medal. The competition itself is really challenging, but to come in with no practices with a player (Young) and then come in a win the tournament – that’s not normal! It speaks to their toughness, their knowledge, their team spirit, and their flexibility because this tournament demands so much of you because stylistically, every team is really different. You normally don’t have to play multiple games in one day and change schemes and styles.”

Young was vacationing on the beach in Florida one and a half weeks ago when she was called to replace Katie Lou Samuelson at the last minute. After a year of quarantines and bubbles, though, the players are accustomed to changes on the fly.

“I am glad I had the opportunity,” Young said. “I did everything I could to help this team win. I had to catch on quick, learn the plays, learn the defensive schemes, just fit into the mix without messing up the chemistry.”

Also impressive was the fact that the U.S. was the eighth-and-lowest seeded team in the eight-squad field. Again, the short preparation contributed to the seed, as the U.S. competed versus teams playing together for long periods of time.

“We don’t play 3X3 year around, so we don’t really pay attention to the ranking and seeds,” Gray said. “Winning a gold medal, that’s something on another level. It’s just something that not everybody gets to do. It’s been a fun experience, and I just enjoyed all of it.”

Gray won a national title with U.S. 5X5 coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina in 2017. She added that her team returns to America soon and will not be able to stay and watch her best friend, A’ja Wilson, and the rest of Team USA in 5X5. Gray’s current coach with the Dallas Wings, Vickie Johnson, chimed in on her player winning the gold medal, as well.

“All of us within the Wings organization are thrilled for Allisha and the United States women’s 3X3 basketball team for their tremendous accomplishment in winning the gold medal in Tokyo,” Johnson said. “Congratulations to the team for all their hard work and determination to finish the job. We are so proud of Allisha and can’t wait to welcome her back and congratulate her in person for this amazing feat.”

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