Basketball / Three-on-three / Pros Rejoice in Playing Childhood Game Again

Three-on-three World Championships begin Thursday night.

"Well done, Amit," Amit Tamir says to Amit Simhon after the latter sinks a long-range shot against him. It is their final training session before they leave together to represent Israel in the 3X3 World Championships in Greece, where the two Amits will play with Yoad Bet Yossef and Cory Carr.

The session was held at the Tel Aviv Sportek at 7 P.M. in spite of the humidity and 26 degrees. Tamir jokingly asks if he can play with sunglasses, while Beit Yossef is afraid to slip. In Greece, he says, the conditions will be different: "I heard it's windy, and the championships take place near the sea."

The neighborhood format of three-on-three is the new hit worldwide, not only for amateurs. The FIBA international basketball association has hopes of transforming it to a full-fledged Olympic sport in Rio 2016, and meanwhile it is organizing tournaments, such as the men's and women's world championships, that begin tonight in Greece and will be the Israeli team's first.

Ilan Kovalski, head of the delegation, recalls: "When I first raised the idea at the association meeting, I was ridiculed when I said we would be training outdoors, at the Sportek, but it's really happening. This is a sport that is rapidly catching on worldwide, and will eventually be as successful as beach volleyball. When we approach Rio 2016, I believe everybody will already be rooting for us."

Twenty-four national teams divided into four groups will take part in the championships. Israel will play three games tonight against Sri Lanka, Estonia and Greece. Tomorrow the team will play Brazil, and on Saturday, Russia. The top four in each group will play in the final 16, with the top twelve teams automatically gaining tickets to the next tournament in Seville.

Ten minutes or 21 points

Every team has four players - three on court and one substitute. They themselves decide on the rotation, and they call the time-outs. The coach is confined to the stands: "He can shout, but with all the din and music, nobody can hear him," Kovalski says. "The coach's job is to prepare the players for the game, not to run it."

In three-on-three, a regular basket is worth one point, a shot from beyond the arc is worth two points, and the game lasts 10 minutes or until a team reaches 21 points.

Bet Yossef, Tamir and Simhon shoot from beyond the arc every chance they get, while Carr tries to make his way into the paint. "The difference between one- and two-pointers isn't as important as it is between two- and three-pointers in regular basketball," says Bet Yossef. Kovalski doesn't agree. "In the Serbia tournament I saw teams that made point after point in the paint. In that style of play you can also get more free throws." Fouls beyond the arc earn the shooter two free throws.

While the United States can dream of a team with Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, with Kobe Bryant coming off the bench, Israel can imagine Yogev Ohayon, Yotam Halperin, Omri Casspi and Lior Eliyahu, but at present all four are busy with the national team. Coach Danny Gott, appointed only a week ago, explains why he chose Bet Yossef and Simhon, who signed with Gilboa/Galil, and Carr and Tamir, who played in the National League last season and have yet to sign anywhere in the current one. "Due to the hurry," he says, "it was hard to find available players. Moran Roth didn't want to come because he's beginning his first season at Maccabi. This team is balanced between young and experienced players, players who can attack the basket and shoot from long-range, guards who can defend against tall players. We don't know anything about our rivals, but this squad can handle any situation. I'm very optimistic."

At the Sportek, amateurs play three-on-three every evening. For the professionals, who usually play five-on-five indoors, it's a return to the old days. "I grew up playing three on three, as a kid I used to play on these courts," Bet Yossef says. Tamir adds: "The surface is different and the rhythm is very fast, but it's still basketball. Players want to play. It's fun to represent Israel again, I'm excited and enthusiastic. The association supports us, and I hope we can win the world title." Bet Yossef looks further ahead: "I hope we can win an Olympic medal."