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Australia’s 3×3 basketball conundrum

How will the sport progress?

The Commonwealth Games has been a staple in the Australian sporting calendar for decades. Whether they are hosted on Australian shores or overseas, the event is a key part of our sporting identity. But in July of this year, just 14 months after being announced as the host, the Victorian Government withdrew their plans to stage the 2026 Commonwealth Games in regional Victoria due to skyrocketing budgets.

Greg Hire, who is part of the Commonwealth Games Australia (CGA) Athletes Advisory Committee, recalls when he found out about the withdrawal.

“I was doing a workshop in the Kimberley [Northern Western Australia], and it was very bizarre. I had barely any phone reception the whole trip,” he tells upstart.

“And randomly, the first thing in the morning, 6:30, my phone was ringing from someone from CGA. I was like ‘Why are they calling at this time in the morning?’ and they basically were like, ‘There’s a media release, a press conference.’ I initially thought ‘What have I done wrong?’”

Hire represented Australia at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, winning silver in 3×3 Basketball, an off-shoot of the traditional five-on-five form played on a half-court with three players per side. The 3×3 version is most popular across Europe, with it recently becoming a full-time Olympic sport as of the Tokyo Games.

Being a top-five country in both men’s and women’s traditional basketball, Australia was expected to transition into being a strong force in the smaller variant. However, Australia hasn’t seen the same interest compared to other nations.

Like it did in Tokyo, 3×3 Basketball then became a Commonwealth Games sport in 2022. This provided the opportunity to grow the game in Australia, with new eyes drawn being to it through free-to-air broadcasts. It also gave Australian basketballers a desire to compete in the 3×3 competition. Hire says there were a number of players that started to put their hands up to play the code for Australia, because of the Commonwealth Games experience.

“There were a number of NBL guys currently that sort of touch base and that was very interesting. This year Todd Blanchfield played in the Asia Cup, Mitch McCarron played in the World Cup, so you’re starting to get that,” he says.

Victoria’s withdrawal of the 2026 Games has left uncertainty around how some sports will continue to grow. Hire believes there will be a missed opportunity for 3×3 to do so in Australia without a home event and says being a part of the Athletes Advisory Committee allowed him the opportunity to grow the sport as it would be played during a home games.

“That was an opportunity to leverage 2026 and to help grow [3×3] because naturally, you want to build appeal but more so what’s worse than a home team losing a medal…[There would be] more investment, more resources and that sinks down to pathways. Momentum is this incredible thing,” he says.

Damon Lowery has been a part of Australia’s 3×3 coaching staff since 2018. He tells upstart Australian basketballers do not value 3×3 because they see it as more of a novelty.

“Yet every single WNBL and NBL team will have three-on-three drills. They’ll do it, but they probably look at it as simply ‘this is just for training for components of five-on-five’ as opposed to ‘this is a proper, actual sport,’” he says.

But there has been some growth for Australia, even if it’s still very small in comparison to other sports. This comes from the junior programs and basketball clubs that have started to promote and run 3×3 competitions. Lowery says as the junior programs get more involved, the sport will grow.

“Now they’ve got tournaments and most associations have heaps of 3×3 teams. Whereas back in 2018, there was none to my knowledge. So, I think it’s good that the grassroots get involved,” he says.

There is no greater achievement as an athlete than to represent your country on the world stage. In Australia’s case, pulling on the green and gold is seen as the ultimate accomplishment in one’s sporting journey.

“To represent Australia at the Asia Cup, World Cup or a number of other events was special. Even though I knew it was a different format of the game, it’s just immense pride,” Hire says.

Photo: Provided.

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