3×3 basketball is rapidly gaining popularity around the world, including Poland. The debut at the Tokyo Olympics was a big step in the development of the sport, and another one is ahead of us, at the European Games Kraków-Małopolska 2023. And although all European top players will be present at the tournament, in the line for for a medal we’ll watch the Poles. A long-time member of our team, Szymon Rduch, assures that while playing in front of their own audience, the team will be able to win against anyone.
What is it about 3×3 basketball that makes it so popular?
FIBA says it’s 30 percent sport and 70 percent entertainment, and I agree with that! It’s an event for fans with live music. The games are very dynamic, we play 10 minutes or up to 21 points, so you can say it’s kind of a basketball sprint. We are very close to the audience, the arenas are built so that we feel the pressure coming from the fans. There is no coaching during the games, so non-verbal communication is very important and mutual understanding is very important, because we play quickly and actually intuitively. In addition, all our tournaments are played in amazing venues. The European Championships were held under the Eiffel Tower, the World Championships in Antwerp in the very center of the city, so I’m glad that at the European Games in Kraków there will be a 3×3 arena, because it will be possible to show the beauty of this city.
How did you get into 3×3 basketball? You did, after all, perform in the basketball premier league.
I had an easier task, because I have two brothers, and we sort of naturally started playing this “street” variety of basketball, because before 2011 there were no official FIBA rules for 3×3 basketball. In 2014 we managed to win the Polish championship for the first time, which led on to the World Tour series. At that time we didn’t really know it. The year 2015 was a breakthrough for us, because we went to the tournament in Prague, we performed in the final there and thanks to that, we managed to appear in the final competition of the entire World Tour cycle. At that time, Piotr Renkiel, who is now the coach of the national team, was still playing with me, so in a way history has come full circle, but we are still playing together, although my brothers have already finished their careers.
And what makes the Poles so strong in 3×3 basketball? Recent years have been a streak of great results for our national teams.
In the past decade, basketball is not so popular in Poland, but the past few years are very happy times for us. At the European Championships, our national team finished fourth in regular basketball, this year our U23 team won the gold medal at the 3×3 World Championships, and the women’s national team won bronze, that year we won bronze in France – so you can see that all this is developing. What’s above all, is passion. 3×3 basketball is fulfilling for those interested in it. When I started, there was no money involved. We just met and played. Now it’s more professional, you can make a living out of it, but it’s still a great way to fulfill a dream. We were able to perform at the Olympic Games, in the World Tour series. In this regular basketball, I played at the major league level, but I was limited to our country. In 3×3 basketball, I toured the world, our last three tournaments were South Korea, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia. We are not only developing athletically, but also have the opportunity to visit other countries and learn about their culture.
You also try to promote the sport by organizing camps for young people. Can you tell us about this?
We know how hard it is in this era of widely developed technology to get kids into any kind of sports. That’s why, whenever we have free time, we try to organize camps, whether with the SK Store Foundation or the 3×3 Academy created by Piotr Renkiel. We want to make sure that it’s not the same path for young players that we took, that only when we were already developed players did we decide that we were done with regular basketball, and enter the world of 3×3. We would like our country’s strength to be made up of youth, as demonstrated by the players on the U23 team, the current world champions and triumphants of the League of Nations last year. I myself would wish that the national team be as young, energetic and vibrant as possible.
In front of you are the Kraków-Małopolska 2023 European Games, and the chance to perform in front of your own audience. Does this create additional excitement?
Kraków is a great location. I’m glad, because I know the region well and I think that both the city and all of Małopolska have a lot to show. This is a huge event for us, because we haven’t had such a big event in Poland so far, and it’s extremely important to promote ourselves, to show how fast and exciting this sport can be. I think this is a huge step for us, for the whole discipline. It should also be mentioned that the strength of 3×3 basketball is Europe, as shown by the Olympic Games and the World series. If you want to win over the world, you have to win in Europe first. And these four-team groups at the European Games will be stronger than at the World Championships.
The world’s top teams will come to Kraków, led by Serbia and Olympic Champions, Latvians. What is our goal?
We’ve been playing for a few years now, and actually we all know our potential. The Serbs are most often talked about, because they are the country that dominates 3×3 basketball, has six teams in the World Tour cycle, and that’s why their ranking is so strong. Everyone also looks at the Latvians, the gold medalists from Tokyo. And it’s interesting, because we finished seventh there, which is far from them, but it’s also worth remembering that in order to play at the Olympics at all, we had to beat them at the Graz tournament at the qualifying tournament. This shows that a lot of variables determine the outcome, and anyone can win against anyone. That’s why I think that playing at home, we will have a great chance to leave this event with a medal.
A year later, the Paris Olympic Games are approaching, where 3×3 basketball will be held in a facility that can hold as many as 37,000 people. Are you already thinking about this event?
Of course! It took me a very long time to digest what happened in Tokyo. I analyzed it and later came to the conclusion that it was actually the details that decided that we did not come out to the medal stage. We immediately outlined our next goal – Paris. And we are consistently striving for it, although we are going step by step. It is important to remember that the European Games is a great event, where we want to demonstrate our skills in front of our audience. Before that, we have the World Championships in Vienna, which is also a very important event, thanks to which we will be able to prepare for the performance in Kraków, and then the Olympics in Paris. The whole year 2023 will be about building our ranking so that we could make our dreams come true at the Olympics. With such a large audience, we couldn’t play because there were no fans in Tokyo, and so far the largest number was at the World Championships in Manila, where about 15,000 fans watched us. This, by the way, shows how the sport is gaining popularity.