It is a well-known fact that international competition is beneficial to sport’s growth. Having such a small country and an equally small pool of players and teams, the local basketball community has had to rely on its import players as well as FIBA’s annual Small Countries Games for the development of its national team players, those of whom have remained within the local leagues that is.
Last weekend, Malta finally took this step albeit, in 3×3 – The Europe Cup qualifiers in Limassol, Cyprus.
In this venture for the women’s 3×3 national team, a second in this variation of basketball after a debut in Latvia in 2019, Malta made its way through to the semi-finals, losing out to hosts Cyprus who won qualification for the finals in Graz, Austria in September, unbeaten in all four games played.
Many of the players who faced each other in last weekend’s games will return to Cyprus to battle it out again in the full game at the end of the month during the women’s FIBA Small Countries Games in Nicosia.
Both Malta’s players – currently on the provisional roster – and coach Angela Adamoli are set to be among them. This means that added to the number of Maltese players who ply their trade overseas, there will possibly be another four players who have had the challenge of playing 3×3 against foreign opposition this year.
The importance of this lies mainly in the level of competition as well as the variation in playing styles these Malta representatives face, considering the unfortunate fact that Malta’s league contains just four participating teams.
Hibernians’ Ashleigh Van Vliet, statistically the player with the most minutes on court, and 11.36 points per game, this season in the Maltese women’s league was one of the standout performers for the Malta side over the weekend, tallying 11 points.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Van Vliet believes that any type of exposure to the international game is essential for Maltese players.
“I think any exposure Malta can get to international competition is extremely beneficial,” she said.
“We have proven successful at the Small Countries competitions in the past, so I think having yet another avenue for players to go and compete is very exciting.
“I am so proud of the team, how we competed, especially as it was one of our first international tournament experiences.
“Personally, I really enjoyed the new challenge it brought – it’s a physical game but also an intelligence game. As an older player, it’s not often you get to learn something completely new, so I am very appreciative of this opportunity.”
While it may seem that one win – a 14-12 victory against Kosovo in the quarter-finals – in between three losses is not the best of results, it was certainly a sign that Malta has the basis for improvement in European competition, particularly when compared with other sides of the competition.
“The game itself is very different from five-on-five, so it was both challenging and exciting for us. As a group, we learned a lot and really feel like this is just the beginning for Malta 3×3. There’s a lot of potential for this game in Malta,” the Malta forward said.
According to a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 3×3 is currently the largest urban team sport in the world. The now standalone sport was part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics over the summer for the first time and eventually made its way into the Commonwealth Games this year as well.
However, while it will be an avenue to aim for in the future, much has to be done locally to promote and nurture the sport.
“I think getting a win at this tournament was only a glimpse of our potential,” Van Vliet said.
“I think 3×3 is at grassroots level right now. This tournament was only the beginning so, getting players and clubs involved and building on this is key. Focusing on developing the 3×3 skills will, in turn, strengthen players in five-on-five,” Van Vliet said.