May 14, 2022
Why Jennifer Rizzotti was the right choice to lead USA Basketball’s 3X3 Women’s Series
'I want to get people excited about this,' Rizzotti says
Jennifer Rizzotti is adding another highlight to her already-glowing resume. On May 2, USA Basketball (USAB) named the Connecticut Sun president its coach for the FIBA 3X3 Women’s Series. The summer-long series will feature up to 14 events in destinations such as Mongolia, Israel and the Czech Republic. It will culminate with a final Sept. 14-18 in Constanta, Romania.
“I think I am probably more familiar with it than most 5X5 coaches, even having never coached it,” Rizzotti said of 3X3. “I think it’s growing in the basketball world. I love the pace, the strategy and the intensity. I don’t think people realize how much strategy there is. I want to get people excited about this.”
She is getting her first look at players May 13-15 at the USA Basketball Red Bull 3X3 Nationals at the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., where 12 teams are competing for the national title.
“This is where we get most of our evaluations,” the former UConn point guard said. “We are looking for six professional-level players, four of whom will travel for each event.”
The Nationals consist of five teams of professional players and the remainder are college-level. Teams that advanced to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA Tournament were invited to send a team. The professional-level players Rizzotti is seeking need to be flexible and not under WNBA contract.
Rizzotti is as synonymous with the national program as anyone. She was an assistant on the 5X5 team that won the gold medal at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, as well as the 2018 World Cup in Spain. She also was the head coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 2011 Under-19 World Cup in Chile.
“I think with my involvement in USAB, I understand the culture and the commitment,” she added. “WNBA coaches can’t be involved, and those are some of the best minds in the game.”
In addition, Rizzotti serves as the chair for the 5X5 team’s selection committee. She said that, due to the tight schedule between the end of the WNBA Finals and the start of the World Cup in Sydney, Australia, this September, the player selections will not be announced until directly before the event.
“It’s a lot of practice,” she said of the multi-tasking. “The first time USAB called was in 2006 [to be an assistant at the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship]. I have tried to commit my time with the organization, made some sacrifices, leaving my family. It gives me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had in the past. I think the 3X3 game is growing, but there are not a lot of people with experience.”
But what if the Sun make it to the WNBA Finals and the 3X3 team advances to the World Finals in Romania?
“I’ll be ready!” she interjected confidently. “I am talking to the Sun about the commitment to make sure I can do both. My goal is to have the 3X3 program self-sufficient by that time. This will be an opportunity and a good problem to have.”
In 3X3 basketball, the coach is in the stands and does not have contact with players during the match. Rizzotti, who is also busy coaching her eighth-grade son’s AAU team, will decide which events to travel to.
“Right now, the thought is taking a look at the schedule,” she said. “We don’t need to play in every event that FIBA creates. It’s a small group. That level of trust to play it for themselves. My plan is to be around as much as I can.”
The 3X3 Series is not to be confused with the FIBA 3X3 World Cup, which will be held June 21-26 in Antwerp, Belgium. Rizzotti said college players will participate in that event, and they will be selected at the Nationals in Springfield.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser started out covering the Niagara University women's basketball team in 2002. He went on to cover FIBA World Cups in Turkey and Spain, Under-19 World Cups in Thailand and Spain, the Asia Cup in China, as well as major international events for World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 80 countries.