3x3 World Tour event promising start for Canada ahead of Tokyo 2020
The rain stopped, the sky cleared above Saskatoon and the sun splashed down on two powerhouse Serbian squads who were looking to become the first World Tour winners of the season.
Novi Sad is ranked number one in the world — Liman is ranked number two. Both Serbian national 3x3 teams knocked off Canadian squads to make their way into the Saskatoon Masters 3x3 championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Going into the quarter-finals on the final day of competition, Canada had four teams in contention — Saskatoon, Old Montreal, Toronto and Montreal.
Team Saskatoon recently represented Canada at the World Cup in Manila, Philippines, where the team of Michael Linklater, Michael Lieffers, Steve Sir and Nolan Brudehl placed sixth at the event. It was the first time Canada has ever qualified to compete at the international event thanks in large part to the points the Saskatoon squad has been garnering for the country.
Saskatoon met Novi Sad in the semifinal game and at one point were leading the Serbs 11-9 before stumbling down the stretch. They gave up nine straight points before ultimately losing 21-15.
Lieffers had his own dunk party! 🎉 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/3x3WT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#3x3WT</a> <a href="https://t.co/dhNshWT4Qh">pic.twitter.com/dhNshWT4Qh</a>—@FIBA3x3
There are two ways to win 3x3 basketball games — the first team to reach 21 points or the team who is leading after 10 minutes of play. There's a 12-second shot clock and no halftime.
Winnipeg also made it all the way to the semifinal before running into Liman. It was somewhat of a defensive battle and Winnipeg kept it close. The game ended with a final score of 18-14 in favour of Liman despite not reaching the 21-point mark.
Serbia continues its dominance
The all-Serbian championship game started with an explosion of points with teams trading baskets in a flurry of action.
With 6:18 remaining, both teams were deadlocked at 8-8 before Novi Sad pulled away led by one of the most dominant players in the game, Dusan Bulut.
He was named tournament MVP — the eighth time he's received the honour — as Novi Sad defeated their national rivals 20-18 to claim their 13th Masters World Tour title and picked up $30,000 US in the process.
"We are hard working and very passionate about this sport. When you have that, success is always near," Bulut said. "This is great. The feeling is amazing. We're going to stay humble because the season has just begun."
Novi Sad 🇷🇸 win FIBA 3x3 World Tour Saskatoon Masters 2018 🎉 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/3x3WT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#3x3WT</a> <br><br>📖 <a href="https://t.co/MVk0vYR8VL">https://t.co/MVk0vYR8VL</a> <a href="https://t.co/HYybuxIsEf">pic.twitter.com/HYybuxIsEf</a>—@FIBA3x3
The win also secures a spot for Novi Sad at the Beijing World Tour Final. There are nine other stops on the tour throughout the season.
When it comes to 3x3 basketball, Serbia dominates. Their teams have been winning the majority of the World Tour titles and have also captured four out of five World Cup titles.
"It's our sport so we're going to support it as we should," Dusan said.
New Olympic sport
With 3x3 basketball now an Olympic sport, Canada Basketball is putting on a full-court press to try and get a team qualified for the inaugural event. Only eight men's teams and eight women's teams will earn a spot into the first-ever event.
The key for Canada now is trying to get as many teams and elite players involved with 3x3 to increase Canada's international ranking. The Olympic qualification process still isn't completely clear but members of the national team believe there will be an event in May 2020 that will go a long way into determining whether Canada will be competing.
This first 3x3 World Tour event in Saskatoon is a promising start as the clock ticks down to the 2020 Games.