A Year Older, Wiser, Stronger, Rondať Jefferson is Back for More 3x3 Action
Sept. 23, 2012 ē Colorado Springs, Colo.
In 2011 at the inaugural FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship, then dubbed the 3x3 Youth World Championship, Rondať Jefferson and the other three members of the USA team was just 16 years old competing against guys who were mostly 17 and 18. Despite the age gap, the USA put together a 6-2 slate in preliminary play, losing by one point against Bulgaria and two versus Czech Republic, and advanced as the No. 10 seed heading into the medal round. In the Round of 16, the U.S. easily dispatched Latvia 21-15, but were stopped by Estonia 21-12 in the quarterfinals and eventually finished in eighth place with a 7-5 mark.
The 3x3 game is a much faster pace game. Whereas most teams canít match the depth of a USA Basketball 12-man roster for 40 minutes, many countries are able to field a team of four, with three on the court at a time, that can compete with a USA 3x3 team. Additionally, in a 10-minute game that features a 12-second shot clock, every possession counts.
ďItís completely different from 5-on-5,Ē explained Jefferson. ďI would say that 3-on-3 prepares you for 5-on-5. People might not get it, but if they did, theyíd understand. Because the game is so short, it makes you play hard at all times. And itís physical at the same time.Ē
A member of the 2011-12 USA Basketball Developmental National Team, Jefferson returned to Colorado Springs, Colo., earlier this summer and was on track to make the 2012 USA U17 World Championship Team. However, a sore shoulder kept him from being named to the squad. After rehabbing for a couple of weeks, Jefferson got a call asking if he would be interested in competing in the USA Basketball U18 3x3 National Tournament, with the hopes of going to the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship. There was no hesitation.
ďPlaying for the USA team, thereís nothing like it,Ē he said. ďI get the call about anything, and Iím here. Just coming out here, itís just great. For them to call me to play 3x3 again, I was excited and ready to go.Ē
He and his Team Bulldogs, which included USA DNT members Larry Austin and DeMonte Flannigan, rolled to an 8-0 record, took the gold medal and were named to the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 squad, along with Brett Brady from Team TCI.
The sting of last summerís eight-place finish still weighs heavily on Jeffersonís mind and he will do everything in his power to help his teammates return to the U.S. with the gold following the Sept. 28-30 tournament in Spain.
ďMy mind is set on one thing and thatís getting the gold,Ē Jefferson remarked. ďIím going to try to push these guys so that their mindset is the same, so that we can bring home the gold.Ē
USA Basketball sat down with Jefferson following the teamís first practice at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to find out what he learned from last yearís experience, how 3x3 differs from the game of basketball as we know it, among other things.
You played in the FIBA 3x3 Youth (U18) World Championship last year. What can you and your teammates expect to see at this competition?
Pretty much an aggressive, non-stop, get after it and get going kind of tournament.
What can you teach your teammates about the game that you learned last year?
Pretty much how to stay in the mode of getting after it, never to give up, and just go hard at every given moment theyíve got. Because, once itís over, itís over and itís a sad ride home if you lose.
Is it similar to the Ďregularí game of basketball or is it something completely different?
Itís completely different from 5-on-5. I would say that 3-on-3 prepares you for 5-on-5. People might not get it, but if they did, theyíd understand. Because the game is so short, it makes you play hard at all times. And itís physical at the same time. Itís like taking no plays off, which on 5-on-5, coaches want that. They want you never to take plays off.
Earlier this summer you had a good chance to be on the USA U17 World Championship Team, but injured your shoulder. What was that like for you and how did you feel when you got called to participate in the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament?
It was shocking to get the news about not being able to go to Lithuania. I cried. It was just a Ö itís just always great to be a part of something special. Playing for the USA team, thereís nothing like it. I get the call about anything, and Iím here. Just coming out here, itís just great. For them to call me to play 3x3 again, I was excited and ready to go.
Is this a chance to redeem yourself from last summerís eighth-place finish and are you driven this year to do much better?
Oh yes. My mind is set on one thing and thatís getting the gold. Iím going to try to push these guys so that their mindset is the same, so that we can bring home the gold.
Last summer, your 3x3 team was a young one, U16s going up against U18s. Do you feel that now that youíre a year older and closer to the same age as the rest of the competition, youíll be able to compete against the competition better?
Yeah, I would say that we will put up a better chance, being more physical, more mature, smarter on the court. Throughout the whole year weíve been getting better. So, I would say we have a pretty good chance of winning.
What do you think about your team?
I would say we have every piece put on this team to win it.
Have you been playing a lot of 3-on-3 over the last month or so?
We play 3-on-3, 4x4 back at home. We play full court, though, so itís different than half court. So yeah, Iíve played.
Have you convinced any of your friends to play with the FIBA rules to help get you ready?
No, no. They think itís too difficult.
Whatís the best thing about being back at the U.S. Olympic Training Center for your sixth or so time now?
The environment, the people here, the coaches, my teammates, the USA Basketball staff. Itís just a great place to be.