By DOUG FEINBERG
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Alexis Peterson and her Force 10 teammates see themselves as the “Founding Mothers.”
They are the first group of women to be sponsored by a WNBA team to play 3-on-3 basketball. They hope it’s just the beginning.
The Seattle Storm ownership group put together a pilot program with Peterson, Cierra Burdick, Linnae Harper and Megan Huff to travel the country and play in USA Basketball Red Bull 3×3 Tournaments. By doing so, the team will earn points for the U.S. to help them qualify for the 2020 Olympics. It will also earn the four players on the Force 10 team points to potentially qualify them to Tokyo next summer to play in those games.
“I think it’s amazing. First group of women to do it at this level,” Peterson said. “It’s not often you can say you are a part of something at the beginning. We were a part of that. Ten, 20 years from now, we can say we were the ones who started that and we were the ones who led the way and got women more of a chance to play.”
The Storm ownership group of Lisa Brummel, Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau began researching the possibility of fielding a team about a year ago. Force 10 CEO and Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis said it was a no-brainer for them to get involved.
“We wanted to start something and it is an investment in this sport,” Valavanis said. “Not only for these players, but for the game to grow, the business of basketball to grow. That is what this is about. We received the WNBA’s support in this pilot program.”
The Force 10 players were honored to be chosen and definitely are inspired by the fact that the team was started by women.
“There’s something really special that the first team is being sponsored by a WNBA team that is owned by women,” Burdick said.
Valavanis sees the possibility that teams across the WNBA could sponsor 3-on-3 teams. Right now, there are 144 potential roster spots on WNBA teams. If each team were to sponsor a 3-on-3 team, that would add another 48 potential jobs for women.
“Absolutely, we test this and grow a model that makes sense for the WNBA and other teams to follow,” she said.
The Force 10 program also helps USA Basketball. Unlike 5-on-5, where teams like the U.S. can just choose from its pool of players to put forth a very good team, the Americans first must earn enough points to qualify as a country for the Olympics next year. Only seven countries will join Japan on the men’s and women’s side in the new event. Qualifying as a country is based on a point system, which can be earned by playing in FIBA-sanctioned tournaments around the world. The top three point-earning countries by Nov. 1 will automatically qualify for Tokyo. The U.S. women are currently 21st. If the Americans aren’t in the top three by that date, there will be a last-chance tournament held next spring for the final few spots.
The individually earned points go in a general pool for each country’s federation. FIBA counts the top 100 points-earners for each federation in determining the standings; the more teams you have and events you participate in, the stronger your top 100 will be. If the U.S. does qualify, it will choose its players from a pool. If the U.S. does qualify, a selection committee will determine which four players will represent the team at the Olympics. However, two of the players on the team will have to be ranked in the top 10 in the country in points earned. The other two must be in the top 50 overall for the country. Those points are earned by playing in FIBA tournaments and playing in higher-level tournaments to earn a player more points.
Burdick and her teammates would love a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.
“Every little girl who plays basketball dreams of playing in the Olympics,” she said. “To have a chance to do that would be amazing.”
Burdick already has won one gold medal in 3-on-3 for the U.S., helping the Americans win the FIBA 3×3 World Championship in 2014, when she was in college at Tennessee.
The Force 10 team got together a week ago and played in their first tournament in New York this past weekend. They lost in the semifinals.
“The biggest thing we learned is that the physicality in this game is a lot different then we’re used to,” Burdick said. “They let a lot more go than when you play in the WNBA or overseas.”
Burdick and her teammates were disappointed by the loss, but know the future is bright for their team. They are going to train for a few days in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the USA Basketball facility before playing in another tournament next weekend in Denver. They’ll be joined at the training facility by members of the USA Basketball Pan-Am team and a few other college players.
Oregon State guard Destiny Slocum will be one of those players in Colorado. She played in the New York tournament with former Maryland teammate Kaila Charles, UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere and Texas’ Charli Collier. The team represented USA Basketball and finished second in the tournament, losing in overtime on a free throw.
“This game is much faster than 5-on-5. There’s a team aspect to it, but you also have to be able to get your own and score quickly. It feels like more structured street ball. It’s definitely more fun and a great extension to basketball.”