March 29, 2021
How USA Basketball’s Olympic 3X3 team is coming together
Plum, Dolson, Gray, and Samuelson will head to Austria for qualifying
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At long last, USA Basketball held its training camp for the Olympic women’s three-by-three team in San Antonio, Texas, this week. The quartet of Kelsey Plum, Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray, and Katie Lou Samuelson, may be a year behind its original schedule, but its commitment to representing the U.S. in Tokyo remains prevalent.
Plum, Dolson, and Gray all participated in the training camp, while Samuelson is still playing for Perfumerias Avenida in Salamanca, Spain, which has advanced to the Euro League Final Four April 16-18. Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud replaced Samuelson for the training event.
The Americans will be one of 20 teams competing in Graz, Austria, from May 26-30, for three qualifying bids to the Olympics. One final bid will be decided in Debrecen, Hungary, from June 4-6, to join China, Mongolia, Romania, and Russia in the eight-team field that will play in Tokyo from July 24-28. The U.S. is the 10th-ranked three-by-three team in FIBA and joins Germany, Uruguay, Indonesia, and France (the world No. 1) in Pool A at the Austrian event.
Plum, the NCAA’s career scoring leader, missed the 2020 WNBA season with a torn Achilles tendon but is back in full form.
“I feel strong and am definitely going out there like I never tore it,” Plum said, “and that is how I will continue to play. (Three-by-three) is so fast and intense. It’s only a 10-minute game, and when the ball is in play, there are only 12 seconds on the shot clock, and you have to make the most of those 12 seconds offensively. Defensively, you have to be locked in since everyone is trying to score every chance they are on the ball. I am still learning because I have never been in an actual international competition, so I am still learning the nuances. Overall, I think it makes you a better basketball player.”
Plum has composed a 32-2 record with the national team, including winning a gold medal at the 2018 World Cup in Spain. She will compete for a spot on the five-by-five team during its minicamp, March 30-April 2, as will Dolson, Gray, and Atkins.
“I have been a role player with USA Basketball,” Plum added, “but the three-on-three is different because everyone is like ‘The Player.’ It’s a different responsibility, and I enjoy it. I still want to make the five-by-five team too: that means a lot to me. My goal is to make it really hard on the committee because I am a competitor and I want to win.”
Dolson, the 6’5 center of the Chicago Sky, will be traveling outside of the post for the half-court game.
“It’s a big difference,” Dolson said of the formats. “Either way you have to prepare mentally and physically. There are different types of shape you need to be in for three-by-three and five-by-five, but I just focus on working on my skills and being ready for both camps. It’s more team-oriented for five-by-five.”
Since she knew she would be guarding more small players, Dolson lost 26 pounds this offseason through dieting and exercising, which she does twice a day for an hour and a half each session.
“I feel very good about our team,” Dolson said. “It’s a different game, but it’s more fun for me, it’s more exciting; I’m a pretty quick thinker. Our whole team is learning to enjoy it and play with each other.”
Gray, the 6’0 Dallas Wings guard, has also been improving her cardio and endurance.
“It felt great to finally be on the court and get the dust off your lungs,” Gray said. “I trusted my strength and conditioning coach back in Sugar Land, Texas, and making my cardio is in tip-top shape. In three-by-three, you know you’re going to get in and play, as opposed to the five-by-five, which is all about scenarios. This has always been a childhood dream of mine to compete in the Olympics, it’s a dream come true.”
Kara Lawson is the coach of the three-by-three team, although she is not permitted on the court with the athletes during the games, just as coaches can’t communicate with players during tennis matches.
“They choose the best players to represent our countries,” Atkins added, “so it’s the top of the totem pole for me in my basketball career. You have to have the lungs for it because the game is constantly moving. I like to call it glorified pick-up. I never thought this would actually be an Olympic sport, which is really cool, and I am glad they added this.”
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.