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In our Thrills in Tokyo series, we’ll highlight some of the summer Olympics biggest competitions. More than just focusing on the teams, we’ll look at the colleges from which these athletes hail.
Though history and tradition are a big part of the Olympics, new sports and events are added to every Olympic cycle in a quest to reach younger audiences around the globe.
This go-round, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing will take the Olympic stage for the first time. While these sports will be the new kids on the block, some other sports are spreading their wings by adding new disciplines and mixed-gender team events—such is the case of relays in both swimming and track and field.
Among those disciplines making their Olympic debut in Tokyo is 3x3 Basketball. Think of it as a formal version of pickup basketball. Teams—composed by three players and one sub—compete on an outdoor half-court with a single basket. The match ends after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21 points and scoring consist of 1-pointers and 2-pointers.
Though the U.S. men failed to qualify, the women have a quartet of WNBA veterans ready to contend for a medal. “I’m very excited. The Olympics for most people is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Allisha Gray told NBC Dallas Fort Worth. Being part of the first ever 3x3 Basketball Women’s team is another addition to Gray’s career full of firsts: A key player in the University of South Carolina’s first-ever national championship win in 2017, a first-round pick in the WNBA draft that year by the Dallas Wings, and the first former Gamecock to earn WNBA Rookie of the Year honors.
Gray will join forces with Kelsey Plum and Stefanie Dolson, Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky players, respectively. Whereas Dolson won back-to-back NCAA championships, Plum was part of the team that got a silver medal in the 2015 Pan American Games. Unfortunately, Katie Lou Samuelson, instrumental in the team's clinch of an Olympic spot, won't join them in Tokyo after being placed in COVID-19 protocols. University of Notre Dame alum Jackie Young will replace her.
Between the challenges that come with a new Olympic discipline and pandemic-related restrictions, you need an experienced director in the background. And that is Kara Lawson. As a player, she’s considered a University of Tennessee legend after playing in the national title game in 2000 and 2003 and was part of the team that clinched a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. The current Duke University head coach will try to replicate the perfect record set by the squad during the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Graz, Austria, earlier this year.
Lawson, also the first female assistant coach in Boston Celtics history, will do double duty at the games. Besides coaching, she will also be a basketball analyst for the NBC Olympics Team throughout the games.
Tune in to see how experienced athletes take on a new and exciting Olympic discipline.
For sports excitement, turn to the Olympics. For thrills behind the wheel, click here to see what Nissan has to offer.
Catch full Olympic coverage on NBC, including Women’s 3x3 Basketball, USA vs. Taiwan, Sunday at 8:00 a.m. ET and USA vs. China, Monday at 12:00 p.m. ET.