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USA Basketball’s Red Bull 3X Qualifier makes its way to Houston

Red Bull and USA Basketball land in Space City.

Courtesy: Bill Baptist/Red Bull Content Pool

USA Basketball’s Red Bull 3X Qualifier made one of its 22 stops in Houston on Saturday in hopes of finding talent for the 3x3 national team.

What is the Red Bull 3X?

Red Bull teamed up with USA Basketball to kick off a grassroots campaign to find the best 3x3 players in the United States. Red Bull 3X gives athletes across the country a legitimate opportunity to play in the first-ever 3x3 basketball event in the Olympics in Japan, 2020.

The road to playing on the 3x3 USAB team includes 22 qualifiers in 22 different cities, four regional tournaments, and one national tournament. The qualifier portion of the search, like the one in Houston, was open to anyone who could get a four-man roster together, with a max of 24 teams eligible to play. The qualifier began with pool play, then the knockout rounds, and finally the championship game.

Pool Play

The rules of pool play were simple. Each game was eight minutes long, had a 12-second shot clock, and the first to 21 or whoever was leading at the end of time wins. The most daunting and, albeit, fun rule of the matches was that the ball wasn’t taken out of bounds after made baskets. As soon as a bucket was made, a player could run or pass it out beyond the three-point line and their possession began.

Pool Play was a great summation of what the Red Bull 3X really is. The tournament is very grassroots, with skill levels ranging from the guy who is at your local YMCA every Saturday at 8 a.m. to the guy listing off where he played in college and all his stops overseas. Everyone gets a chance to show themselves with the hopes of Red Bull weeding through the athletes to find the best available.

If I had to sum up my pool play experience, there was team with a player who donned what appeared to be custom Crocs designed for playing basketball, against a team with a player who dunked on one of his teammates.

It’s not a joke, either.

Also, Crocs could ball.

Overall, the actual pool play itself was pure, non-stop fun chaos. There were four games going on at once always and hardly much time in between. A local radio personality, J Mac of 97.9 FM, was given the impossible task of announcing the whole thing – to which he did very well and was extremely funny and entertaining. Shout out to him.

Once teams got the hang of clearing the ball quickly, the games flew by. The best part of it was identifying players who could really ball out and watching them just bully the lesser competition. You could also find two teams trading buckets (or even bricks) and that was a lot of fun too.

22 teams showed up to play in the competition. Each team played five, eight-minute games in hopes of grabbing a seed in the Sweet 16. Teams were seeded based off of their win record and their average points scored per game. In total, the pool play was about 3.5 hours, 110 games played, and 880 minutes of playtime.

Knockout Rounds

Each knockout round was single elimination, eight-minute games beginning at the Sweet 16, then eight, four, and then, of course, the championship game.

After watching several teams play multiple times (again, all very different *ahem* levels of competition), the knockout rounds were a huge payoff. The seeding system worked flawlessly as far as the entertainment went. There were some winless teams that went through to the round of 16, but all of them averaged a good amount of points during their pool play, so the four knockout games I watched were wildly entertaining.

Every single team brought it every game, and a lot of them were emotional and driven. Plenty of them had family members looking on and cheering, so that personal touch really upped the stakes of those games – if they weren’t high enough already.

If I was walking by a gym and someone went up to me and told me the Sweet 16 round was about to begin, I’m going to pop in and watch the entire thing until the end all over again.

Championship Game

The Championship Game of the Houston Red Bull 3X qualifiers featured a team that I had just watched play, appropriately named Country Boyz out of Houston. Country Boyz proudly shouted out their area, someplace off of 290, as their friends and family congratulated them after a tough-fought win in the final four. Since they were going to play under the same basket as their final four game, they seemed to garner fans and expectations from those watching.

Unexpected, but also very welcomed (probably by only me), was when their competition moved from the scorer’s table and promptly made themselves known, seemingly proud to take on the heel role in Houston. They said something to the effect of “We’re from Atlanta. We ain’t no country boys.” It was the team, also appropriately named, KIRKGANGATL.

As bold as they were, KIRKGANGATL backed up their talk.

The Championship Game was played with the same rules as the Olympics. It 10 minutes long, had a 12-second shot clock, and the winner was the team that either got to 21 points first or led at the end of regulation.

Unfortunately for the Country Boyz, the unofficial (but technically official), home favorites, KIRKGANGATL needed less than four minutes to run them off the court. Both teams started off strong, but the team out of Georgia began to smother their opposition and sent off a barrage of two-pointers to put them at 21 with over six minutes left in regulation.

“We stayed on each other all day,” Tray Dunn of KIRKGANGATL said. “We talk a lot more than most teams and hit the open shots when it mattered the most.”

Dunn is a great example of the potential of these tournaments. Dunn has already made a name for himself after his team took first place in the Red Bull 3X Atlanta qualifier back in July.

Houston Red Bull 3X Qualifier Champions, KIRKGANGATL
Courtesy: Bill Baptist/Red Bull Content Pool

Houston was stop No. 13 of the Red Bull Qualifier tour. With nine stops left and regionals beginning in September, there’s still plenty of time for Olympics hopeful to get themselves in the games.