Basketball’s new breed serve up thrilling spectacle
Basketball 3x3 proved a big hit at Buenos Aires 2018, giving a taste of the excitement it is sure to generate when it makes its full Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020. Argentina’s men’s team had the home flags waving when they won gold, while the USA swept all before them in the women’s competition.
The individual men’s dunk and women’s shoot-out competitions provided some of the most memorable moments of a thrilling few days of non-stop basketball action. Sporting a cape for the occasion, Argentinian “superhero” Fausto Ruesga thrilled the home crowd as he slam-dunked his way to gold. In the women’s event, meanwhile, France’s Mathilde Peyregne got her shots away faster and more accurately than anyone else to top the podium.
Ruesga then joined forces with Juan Hierrezuelo, Juan de la Fuente and Marco Giordano as Argentina beat Belgium in the basketball 3x3 gold medal match. In claiming the title, the home quartet fuelled hopes that they are ready to follow in the glittering footsteps of the country’s so-called “golden generation”, who stunned the mighty USA to win the Olympic basketball title at Athens 2004 and also took bronze at Shanghai 2008.
The legacy of the heroes of those memorable achievements was very much in evidence on finals day at the Urban Park in Puerto Madero; several members of the crowd wore shirts bearing the names, among others, of Manu Ginóbili and Luis Scola - two of the leading lights of that fabled Argentina side.
Giordano led the way with 11 points as the hosts produced a gritty defensive performance to record a 20-15 win over the Belgians, who had gone into the final unbeaten after seeing off Slovenia 14-12 in the semis.
Argentina came close to not making it to the final at all, having struggled to see off Ukraine and the colossal Ihor Serheiv, whose 2.10m frame made him a constant threat. However, De la Fuente came up with some crucial points as a thrilling semi-final went into overtime, with Giordano sealing an 18-16 win to secure the hosts a silver at least.
On their way to the last four, the Argentinians beat Estonia 22-19, Russia 21-14 and Mongolia 22-15 in the pool phase and Georgia 21-12 in the quarter-finals. Their only defeat of the competition came against the USA (21-18) in their final pool match.
Having improved on the nation’s bronze at Nanjing 2014, the triumphant quartet will now have their sights set on Tokyo 2020, where basketball 3x3 will make its full Olympic debut and where they will hope to continue a golden generational handover.
“It’s impossible for us young players to dream of achieving what the Golden Generation did,” said De la Fuente, pointing to the inspiration provided by the likes of Ginobili and Scola. “I hope this win gives us a little push for the future.”
Slovenia beat Ukraine 21-13 in the bronze medal match.
USA quartet prove too strong
The dominant force in the women’s event, the US quartet of Aliyah Boston, Hailey van Lith, Samantha Brunelle and Paige Bueckers stormed to gold with an 18-4 win over the French four of Diaba Konate, Eve de Christophie Mahoutou, shoot-out gold medallist Peyregne, and Olivia Yale.
Despite only minimal playing time together prior to the Youth Olympic Games – a four-day training camp and one domestic 3x3 tournament – the unbeaten USA foursome said their experience together at under-17 level had helped them form an immediate bond. “I think we executed our offensive plan and used our advantages to help us out and we just made the easy baskets,” said Van Lith, 17, who scored five points in the final.
Brunelle, also 17, said: “We kind of saved up the plays so we could use them in the gold-medal game, because that’s what we were focused on. When we ran those, we executed them well.” Bueckers was USA’s top scorer with 10 points in their 21-9 semi-final win over China, and the 16-year-old added six more in the final, as did Boston. Gold medallists at Nanjing 2014, USA’s women also won bronze at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010.
In the bronze medal match, Singapore 2010 champions Australia (Suzi-Rose Deegan, Alexandra Fowler, Ruby Porter and Sara-Rose Smith) led from start to finish against China and emerged 16-13 winners.