Olympics 2021 - USA Basketball women's 3x3 team ready for debut in Tokyo Games

ByJayla Jones via ESPN logo
Friday, July 23, 2021

The U.S. women's basketball team is attempting to win its seventh consecutive gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Games. But while the American women have dominated 5-on-5 basketball, the U.S. 3x3 women's team is also looking to make history.

Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson, Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray and Las Vegas Aces guards Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young will lead the U.S. 3x3 women's basketball team as the event makes its Olympic debut.

On Monday, Young was named as a replacement for Seattle Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who was placed into COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend and is unavailable for the Games.

The 3x3 tournament opens preliminary play on Friday, with the U.S. women's first game on Saturday. (The U.S. men's 3x3 team did not qualify for the Games.) The semifinals, bronze and gold medal games will all be played July 28.

Here's a look at the four first-time Olympians, coach Kara Lawson, the roster's strengths and how Young's addition impacts the team.

How is 3x3 is different from 5x5?

The 3x3 format is played on a half court with an arc and one basket. The game is played over one 10-minute period and features a 12-second shot clock. The first team to reach 21, or whichever team is leading at the end of the period, wins the game. If the score is tied, the game heads to overtime, and the first team to two points is the winner. Coaching is not allowed during games.

Each team consists of three players on the court and one substitute. Teams begin offensive play from beyond the arc.

Scoring is also different. Free throws and baskets inside the arc are worth one point, and baskets from behind the arc are worth two points.

The ball is also different. Though the same size as used in women's 5x5, the 3x3 ball is blue and yellow and features 24 additional channels, or grooves, for enhanced grip and ball handling.

How does Jackie Young change the U.S. roster?

Young is not the 3-point threat Samuelson is, but she brings a lot of offensive skill and defensive versatility to Team USA. Young, the 2019 No. 1 draft pick, also is very familiar with Plum, as they've played together for Las Vegas for two seasons.

Young has made five 3-pointers to Samuelson's 16 this season in the WNBA. But with 2-point shots, Young has made twice as many (98) as Samuelson has taken (48). Plum, Gray and Dolson have combined for 49 3-pointers this season, so they'll be the more consistent long-range threats for Team USA. But don't count out Young's ability to hit from behind the arc if she needs to.

Young is also more of a pure facilitator, with 67 assists and a 15.0 assist percentage to Samuelson's 23 and 10.7. Defensively, the 6-foot Young is smaller than the 6-3 Samuelson, but Young has a little more versatility in players she can guard. Young is tied for sixth in the WNBA in steals (26), though she won't have a full court to work with in 3x3.

Although Chelsea Gray -- who is making her Olympic debut with the U.S. women's 5x5 team -- handles primary point guard duties for the Aces, Young served that role in Las Vegas as a rookie, and that ballhandling is another strength she brings to Team USA.

Olympic player turned Olympic coach

None of the players on the U.S. 3x3 roster have Olympic experience, but the team's coach does. Lawson, who helped the U.S. women's 5x5 team win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, is in her fifth year as head coach of the 3x3 women's team and has helped shape and develop the program into an Olympic contender.

In 3x3, coaches aren't allowed to actively coach during games, so Lawson's role is all about preparation and practice.

"You have to be more prepared," said Lawson, who is also head coach of the Duke University women's basketball team and was an assistant coach for the NBA's Boston Celtics in 2019-20. "You have to be sure the players are equipped to coach themselves during the game because you can't help them. I can't save them and call a timeout and draw something up or say, 'Hey, this is what they're doing. You need to change this.' They have to know how to make those adjustments themselves."

In late May, Lawson and the U.S. women went undefeated (6-0) in the FIBA 3x3 Olympic qualifying tournament in Graz, Austria, to clinch their berth in the Tokyo Games.

Setting the pace for Team USA

Coming off of an Achilles injury that caused her to miss the 2020 WNBA season, Plum's Olympic debut is the exclamation point on her returning to the player she was before the injury. As the lone gold medalist on the team -- she was part of the winning 5x5 team at the 2018 FIBA World Cup -- Plum has the experience necessary to help lead Team USA to victory.

"Nobody's going to prepare better than KP. Down to everything she does off the court, to her nutrition, to her lifting to take care of her body," Lawson said. "It's pretty remarkable what she's done, tearing her Achilles last year and then to be back playing at a world-class level. She definitely helps set the pace for us."

Plum was an All-American at Washington, where she became the women's NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer (3,527 points) before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA draft. In the WNBA this season, Plum is among the candidates for Sixth Woman of the Year, coming off the bench to shoot 43.4% and average a career-best 13.5 PPG.

Plum averaged 5.3 points and 1.8 rebounds in the six-game FIBA qualifying series.

Versatility? Gray is the go-to

Gray, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, helped lead South Carolina to the 2017 NCAA title, where she played under current women's 5x5 coach, Dawn Staley.

Gray's outside shooting is key; she and Plum led the team with eight 2-point baskets apiece during qualifying, when Gray averaged 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds -- team highs in both categories.

"I think what I bring is my overall game," Gray has said. "I'm able to create my shot and also play defensive on multiple-size people as well."

She is averaging 11.6 PPG and shooting 44.2% for the Wings in the WNBA this season.

The ultimate paint protector

Dolson, a two-time NCAA champion at UConn, is averaging 7.9 PPG and shooting 47.9% from the field this season in the WNBA. Dolson holds a 43-3 all-time record competing for USA Basketball at both the 5x5 and 3x3 levels.

As a 6-5 center, Dolson's dominance in the paint gives Team USA a much-needed rebounding and scoring presence at the basket. However, Dolson's commitment to get in better shape and transform her body has also made her a defensive force, with the ability to guard any position.

"I'm just really proud of her for making that commitment and sticking with it," Lawson said. "I think it's changed how much of a weapon she is for us out on the court. She moves much better. She can guard guards in [3x3] for us. She didn't have that ability a year ago.

"She has much better endurance, so she has more in the tank at the end of games, and at the end of the tournament, we're going to count on that."

Dolson averaged 5.7 PPG and 4.0 RPG in FIBA qualifying.

Team USA's newest midrange scorer

Although Young did not compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament, she's no stranger to the spotlight. A starter on Notre Dame's 2018 NCAA championship team, she left the Fighting Irish with one year of eligibility remaining and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft.

Like Samuelson, Young's specialty is the midrange shot, and she can also rebound and attack the basket through traffic. Her ability to score from anywhere within the arc should help offset losing Samuelson's efficiency. Young has started every game for the Aces this season and is averaging 12.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 3.2 APG.

ESPN's Mechelle Voepel contributed to this story.