3-on-3 Basketball Is Growing Internationally; Should Colleges Be Considering It?

June 19th, 2017 | by Francis Giknis
3-on-3 Basketball Is Growing Internationally; Should Colleges Be Considering It?


The BIG3 basketball league, which tips-off on June 25th, is the result of years of work by rapper/actor Ice Cube and longtime business partner/manager Jeff Kwatinetz. It is the closest thing to NBA Jam, the beloved 2-on-2 video game popular in the 1990s, fans have seen in a professional sports league. Comprised of eight teams of five players and a coach, BIG3 offers the opportunity to see former NBA greats like Allen Iverson and Chauncey Billups playing 3-on-3 basketball in a half court format that Cube and Kwatinetz claim is “the most played sport in the world.”

The International Olympic Committee seems to agree with the global popularity of 3-on-3 basketball. The IOC just announced the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will feature the 3-on-3 variation, in addition to adding a handful of other new events. Whereas the 3-on-3 game has had an international FIBA World Cup since 2012, the US has never won gold, largely due to lackluster lineups. This would very likely change if the United States sent NBA All-Stars to compete in the 3-on-3 Olympic event as they do in the 5-on-5 iteration.

With the notoriety of 3-on-3 growing rapidly, college athletic departments should be paying attention to this new trend. First off, it is an inexpensive game to develop in its nascent stages. Uniforms, facilities, and scholarship athletes are already present at most schools. Eventually, schools might want to differentiate their 3-on-3 teams from the 5-on-5 counterpart with different jerseys, etc., but in the early going, there would be no immediate need to do so. Furthermore, whereas programs probably don’t want their juniors and seniors (or star freshmen) participating in extra workouts and potentially hurting themselves, a 3-on-3 league could be just the thing to help develop end-of-bench players looking for more time on the floor. And, if considered two different sports, redshirted players could still get real-game work without losing their redshirts for the “main” team.

Obviously, I’m painting an idealized scenario wherein the 3-on-3 team wears last year’s jerseys and benchwarmers bloom into role players thanks to the extra time on the court. Basketball-heads are probably rolling their eyes as, in actuality, the 3-on-3 game is different from 5-on-5 in some significant ways. The court size and player count mean that motions and plays can’t be directly carried-over between the two seasons. However, like with beach and indoor volleyball in which athletes often participate in both despite the obvious differences (again, court size and player count), certain skills transfer between the games regardless. Shooting, rebounding, dribbling, passing, and conditioning, although not a perfect proxy for 5-on-5 basketball, are at the heart of 3-on-3.

The question of 3-on-3’s popularity both domestically and internationally is not at issue. A berth in the Olympics and a developing professional league show that it is a sport on the rise. Furthermore, the relatively low buy-in for universities should make forming a 3-on-3 team painless. Perhaps it could become that rare, coveted entity in athletic departments: a low-overhead, moneymaking team for both male and female athletes.


About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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