In a sport where the ACT often struggles to compete against historic powerhouses like Victoria and New South Wales, a new basketball format has paved a pathway for Canberrans to excel at home and abroad.
Last weekend in Mongolia, three Canberrans represented Australia at the Women’s 3×3 (three-on-three) Asia Cup and won gold.
For Canberra Capitals Academy captain, Sarah McAppion, and former Capitals Academy teammates, Carlie Smith and Isabelle Bourne, it was their first time playing 3×3. Having all excelled in SEABL this winter, they were selected to represent Australia alongside Chantella Perrera from Melbourne.
The shortened format of the game stemming from “streetball”, is a quick fire first to 21 or most points when the 10-minute clock strikes zero. Comprised of four players per team (three on court and a substitute), the game is scored with two pointers – behind the usual three-point line, and one-point shots from inside the arc.
In February, Canberra became the first place in Australia to boast a FIBA accredited 3×3 facility. The two full sized outdoor courts at Belconnen Basketball Stadium make four 3×3 courts, available for public shoot arounds, team trainings, and 3×3 tournaments.
Each of the three Canberrans brought very different stories to Mongolia. For 27-year-old SEABL veteran, McAppion, battling a long-standing back injury has been a hurdle, ending her WNBL career after a successful four year stint at college in the States and Australian selection as a junior.
For 22-year-old Smith, the Asia Cup was her first time sporting green and gold, after a strong season for Bendigo competing against her home town team.
Sixteen-year-old Bourne has the basketball world at her fingertips. Currently holding a Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence scholarship at the AIS, the skilled forward is touted to be Canberra’s next big basketball name. But in her first international competition competing against women, the teenager would be tested.
“I was a bit nervous going into the tournament because I didn’t know a lot about it and it was my first time playing it properly,” says Bourne of the 3×3 format. “I found it’s much faster and more physical than a normal game of basketball, but it was also really fun to play.”
Coming into the tournament Australia was given ninth seed. They drew number one Kazakhstan in their opening group match, and shocked the experienced 3×3 nation with a comfortable victory. From there, another dominant performance against Chinese Taipei saw them through to a tough quarter-final against third seed, Turkmenistan.
The combination of size and skill from Smith and Bourne with speed and defensive pressure from McAppion and Perrera again proved too much for their opponent. Bourne continued to take her defenders low into the paint and dominate with precision fakes and footwork, while Smith knocked down jump shots, and McAppion attacked the hoop.
Another win propelled Australia into the semi-final against China, who came out firing with their star player hitting seven three-pointers. However, the Aussies weathered the storm and made key shots late in the game to seal it.
In the grand final, Australia led Malaysia from the start, never looking in doubt. And with a Perrera three-pointer, the girls in green and gold swarmed to celebrate.
Having had just two weeks to re-learn the game they had played for years, the Canberra connection lifted the trophy together as confetti showered down around them. Better yet, Bourne earned tournament MVP honours against some of Asia’s top talents, just a couple of weeks before turning 17.
“I feel very lucky to have gone away with three amazing girls,” says Smith. “They are all so talented and we had an awesome bond on and off the court.”
“I honestly think that’s a big part of the reason we did so well,” she adds. “It’s so import to have the right chemistry in three-on-three, each of the three other girls brought different unique talents to the team, which allowed us to combine so well and win the gold medal.”
“It was great to play with Carlie and Issie and watch them dominate,” says McAppion, who has watched both players rise through the junior ranks. “I was super excited for Carlie as this was her first time pulling on an Australian jersey. I know how much she has worked for it. I was so proud of Issie winning the MVP. That girl will go super far.”
Now back in Australia the three players will continue preparations for next SEABL season, for their three respective teams. But with 3×3 recently named an event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, McAppion, Smith, and Bourne’s hoops pathways have broadened.
“Three-on-three is an awesome game and I really hope it evolves in Australia,” says Smith. “It is very different from normal basketball, it is incredibly fast and very tactical, the atmosphere is unreal. Now that I have played in the Asia Cup, I have fallen more in love with the sport.”
Written by Lachlan Ross / Photos by Lachlan Ross