Growing 3 on 3 Basketball Vital for the Development of our Game

Remember playing in Gus Macker 3 on 3 tournaments as a kid?  Or, if you’re like me and grew up in Chicago, playing in the Shoot-the-Bull 3 on 3 tournament at Grant Park after the Bulls won yet another championship… those were the days!  The days of gathering a few buddies and playing in a competitive half court setting where skill set mattered and you could not find a place to hide if you were allergic to defense because this was half court 3 on 3!  What happened to these tournaments that were enriching, competitive and fun all at the same time?  The truth is that they are found very few and far between.  With the advent of AAU and organized play in every community, playing pick up ball and attending one-day 3 on 3 tournaments have become a thing of the past…or have they?  

Just recently, I have begun working as a Regional Coordinator of the 3 on 3 game for USA Basketball and I have learned quite a bit.  In all actuality, the 3 on 3 game is alive and well.  It is huge in Europe and in other countries around the world.  FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, actually has a world ranking system for teams in the four major divisions (U18 men, U18 women, open men and open women).  Further, there are currently World Championships for the 3 on 3 game and there talk that 3 on 3 may even become an Olympic Sport.

So with all this being said, where are these tournaments in the United States and who can get involved?  The tournaments still do happen, and now, USA Basketball is making a push to have qualifying tournaments all over the country.  There will be “quests” of these 3×3 tournaments that lead to qualifying tournaments that USAB will be putting on to determine the teams that will compete for a right to represent the United States in international play.  Even further, anyone within the age restrictions can get involved!  That’s not to say that there will only be tournaments for the U18 and Open divisions, as most tournaments will also have divisions for younger levels, but there are only national and international opportunities at the aforementioned levels.  How exciting is that?  

Let’s say you are a current high school player and have a group of buddies that you love to play with…register a team and compete for a chance to represent the United States!  You are a former college women’s player and you still play pickup ball with your old teammates…register a team and compete for a chance to represent the United States!  You’re a current coach that played in college and still plays in men’s leagues…register a team and compete for a chance to represent the United States!  And if you’re anything like my players, serious gear junkies, you’ll be happy to know that the teams that get to the national tournaments will be “swagged” out in all of the Nike USA Basketball gear they can get their hands on!

So, now that we understand that the 3 on 3 game is growing and that there are incentives to play, as a fellow coach, please consider the following:

  1. Having your players involved in three player workouts, three player breakdown drills (ball screens, post entries, flex action, etc.), or play three on three in practice is a great way to teach the game and a great way for your players to learn the game.  In fact, if you go to almost any college practice, attend any clinic, or study any new offensive or defensive system, you’ll see that three player breakdown drills are used consistently across the board.  
  2. Having your players play in these 3 on 3 tournaments is a great way for them to compete in an organized setting while building chemistry and camaraderie with their teammates.  It is also a time when they can get together and coach themselves.  Let’s be honest, sometimes they need a break from us.  Further, the best teams have their players policing themselves and holding each other accountable, but how often do we give our players the opportunity to practice this accountability without us as coaches hovering over them?
  3. As the 3 on 3 game continues to grow, imagine your players competing well enough to get a chance to play in major national tournaments with a chance to play internationally!  That is an experience that we most often cannot provide as high school coaches, but we can push our players to get involved with the USA Basketball 3 on 3 quests for these once in a lifetime opportunities.

I am going into my ninth season as a head coach and there has not been a span of a few days where we have not broken the game down to teach through 3 on 3 drills.  Now there is authentic ways to continue to develop those skills in a competitive setting.  Honestly, we even hold our own 3 on 3 mini-tournaments in our practices to break the routine and give the guys a competitive edge.  I do not mean to bash the AAU game, but players are playing 5 on 5 pickup ball where typically the more athletic teams will prevail and the losing team knows it has three or four more games to get exposure…winning takes a back seat to individual recognition.  Then our players come into the high school season thinking those concepts still apply.  The well coached and skilled teams will win the close games, we all know that, so we need to make sure the 5 on 5 up and down game that happens in AAU without much half court defense does not derail our players from having a healthy thirst for skill development and competition.  That is where the 3 on 3 tournaments come in!  These tournaments will create another setting for players to compete and the impetus will be on skill development, as it should be!


  1. As a high school head coach I have always used 3 on 3 as skill development as well as conditioning. It’s a staple of what we’ve built player development on and our success is evident because of it.

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