Canadian men aiming to qualify for fast-paced 3-on-3 basketball’s Olympic debut

Canadians Steve Sir and Kyle Landry started playing basketball together at Northern Arizona University in 2004.

Since then, Sir set the career record for three-point percentage among NCAA players with at least 300 triples, eventually earning a shot with the Milwaukee Bucks in Summer League. Landry, meanwhile, carved out a lengthy international career that recently brought him back home to the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

Now, the two friends will attempt to help qualify Canada for the Olympic debut of 3-on-3 basketball.

“You hope through your own actions that you inspire others to take it up, to get organized, put a team together, because that’s one of the great things about 3-on-3,” Sir said in a recent interview with CBC Sports. “You can get your friends together and say, ‘Hey, let’s put a team together, let’s get in the tournament and let’s start going after this.'”

Sir, 38, and Landry, 35, are part of a Canadian squad that also includes Jordan Jensen-Whyte and Alex Johnson that will compete at an Olympic qualifying tournament beginning Wednesday in Austria. CBC Sports has full coverage via live stream.

Canada won both its round-robin games at its final pre-qualifier tournament over the weekend in Croatia before falling to Belgium in the quarter-final.

Canada, ranked 10th, is grouped with Latvia (fifth), the Netherlands (sixth), Croatia (25th) and Austria (28th) in the 20-team tournament. 

The top two teams in each of the four groups advance to the single-game quarter-finals. Both finals teams, plus the third-place winner, book their spots to Tokyo.

Edmonton’s Steve Sir holds the NCAA record for career 3-point shooting percentage. (Courtesy Canada Basketball)

Played on half court

The Canadian women’s team won’t get a shot at qualifying due to a quirky rule limiting each country to only one entrant. The men won out due to their higher FIBA ranking.

The sport itself might look familiar — it’s played on a half court with just one basket, and the first to 21, or whoever is leading after 10 minutes, wins. Baskets are counted by ones and twos instead of the standard twos and threes. The pace of play would make Steve Nash’s seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns teams seem slow.

“What everybody was saying when they came away from it was like, ‘Man, this is so fast.’ You’re not standing around,” Sir said. “Everybody has to be involved. So you could tell the potential for this was just sky high.”

In that sense, 3-on-3 borrows from the likes of beach volleyball and rugby sevens, in that it’s a spinoff of a well-known sport that seeks to increase pace by partially reducing the number of participants.

Landry says that elevating the sport to the Olympic stage should only fuel the fire.

“You’re going to get casual viewers from all over the world that generally don’t really follow sports that much,” Landry, from Calgary, said. “But they know that the Olympics is a big deal.

‘Chance to grow’

“And it gives you the opportunity to watch some sports and it gives it a chance to grow.”

It also encapsulates the Olympic ideal of celebrating amateur sports. Leave the full-court game to the pros and bring the neighbourhood game to the international scene.

Landry first started playing the truncated version in Hoop It Up, a grassroots 3-on-3 basketball tour recognized by FIBA and now owned by NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.

“It’s just one of those things. You just get your buddies together and you go out and play. And I mean, that’s really what we’re doing here,” he said.

Sir, of Edmonton, said he first heard rumblings of the sport potentially being added to the Olympics as far back as 2011. 

He began playing 3-on-3 in 2016 when he got involved with Team Saskatoon, the gold standard of the sport in Canada led by a legend in Michael Linklater. Saskatoon’s Bridge City Ballers disbanded in 2019.

“Once it found the bloodstream and got in with people, everyone was just going to say, ‘This is a lot of fun’ and people are having fun playing like that. And this is going to continue to grow and develop,” Sir said.

While Sir and Landry emphasize the joy of the game, the 3-on-3 tour isn’t all glamour.

On the court, it’s much different than your average neighbourhood game. The talent is obviously greater, and there’s less improvisation as teams run organized offensive sets.

When one more point is needed to win, it won’t just be the guy who scored the previous basket taking the shot.

“Whoever ends up open is just going to take it. I don’t think anyone our team is really up for that individual glory,” Landry said.

Whoever ends up open is just going to take [the shot.] I don’t think anyone our team is really up for that individual glory.– Kyle Landry

Off the court, 3-on-3 players are not yet carded, meaning they don’t receive federal funding to continue building the program. That makes the grind, including travelling throughout Europe to retain a spot on tour and eventually make the Olympics, that much more hard.

Sir and Landry, both with families at home, have missed the past two Mother’s Days due to national-team commitments.

“There’s been a lot of investment and sacrifice that have come to pursue this dream,” Sir said. “And it would be a mistake to not make mention of the wives and the kids and the parents who have stood behind this and helped us with their kind words and their love and their support and their willingness to really carry some of the load at home when we’re gone.”

If Canada is able to secure an Olympic berth in Austria, the question then becomes where the team can hold its pre-Olympic training given Canada’s mandated 14-day quarantine upon return home.

“I think what we hope through what is going on with us right now is that [we] will inspire other people to get involved in and take [3-on-3] up,” Sir said. 

“And then who knows what doors will open for them?”



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