Combine Hoopers Show Out for Their Chance at a Spot in the BIG3
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn May 15, 2022
64 players were in Las Vegas on Saturday for the BIG3 Combine. They came from all over and had wildly different backgrounds, from NBA veterans to players who made it through the open tryouts. What they did have in common was that they came to the Combine to try and earn a spot on a BIG3 Roster. Over the course of four frantic hours of basketball, they all did their best to impress those watching courtside including:
- 3 Headed Monsters Captain Rashard Lewis
- 3’s Company Co-Captain Mario Chalmers
- 3’s Company Coach Michael Cooper
- Aliens Coach Rick Mahorn
- Ball Hogs Co-Captain Jodie Meeks
- Ghost Ballers Captain Ricky Davis
- Killer 3s Captain Franklin “Frank Nitty” Session
- Killer 3s Coach Charles Oakley
- Power Coach Nancy Lieberman
- Tri State Captain Julus “Dr. J.” Erving
- Trilogy Captain James “Flight” White
- Triplets Coach Lisa Leslie
- BIG3 Commissioner Clyde Drexler
- BIG3 Co-Founder Ice Cube
- Special Guest Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, father of Kobe Bryant
After some opening remarks and some quick warmups, it was time to get down to business. The players started out with a few jumpers, layups, and dunks. This allowed some players to stand out right away. For example when Rice alumni Marquez Letcher-Ellis dunks, the rim feels it.
From there, it was into drill work. There were stationary shooting drills. The players ran through some simple sets with phantom defenders. Speed and agility were measured. There were also rapid-fire games of one-on-one. These weren’t the kind of drawn-out wars you may be familiar with from watching players like Killer 3s Captain and YouTube Star Franklin “Frank Nitty” Sessions.
The “games” lasted about four seconds each, with players rapidly rotating in and out. In that amount of time, the offensive player had enough time to fire up a jumper straight out of the triple-threat, attempt to get into the paint, or slam on the breaks and put on a counter-move for a mid-range jumper. Blow-bys were rare, and the vast majority of the contests ended with a jumper.
When I asked Frank Nitty himself what he looked to learn from watching one-on-one, he said he was looking for “guys who can create their own shots in one-on-one situations, and guys who can play defense.”
The games switched to two-on-two, and the players got noticeably more comfortable. They took advantage of the extra space having a teammate provided them, were more patient with their shots, and consequently got significantly better looks.
After that, it was time for the main event. The players were divided into six different teams and the rest of the day was spent playing FIREBALL3 in a round-robin format. The competition was friendly but intense. Each game was played with a 15-minute running clock and the scoreboard turned off. Fouls were called, but there were no free throws. The only goal was showing as much skill as possible in a short amount of time.
It was the kind of setting new BIG3 player Gerald Green, who entered the NBA draft straight out of high school, didn’t get to play in much when he worked out for teams. He said that his workouts were mostly “one-on-none” drills with team personnel or assistant coaches, which Green admitted frustrated him.
The physicality of the league was on display, as defenses were tough and shots at the rim were much more rare than long jump shots. From what I saw, the majority of good looks at the rim came from solid team play rather than a blow-by, and there were some absolutely spectacular alley-oops throughout the day.
With so much basketball happening simultaneously, it’s hard to remember all of the action. Still, there are sequences I’ll certainly never forget. After Fresno State alum New Williams just barely failed to convert an alley-oop he had no business being able to catch in the first place, a frustrated Williams took the ball at the top on his next possession, blew directly past his man, and threw down a vicious two-handed jam that shook the building. Or there was the time streetball sensation Greg Helt, who I swear on everything I hold holy was wearing a hoodie under his jersey, fired a pinpoint left-handed bounce pass with serious steam on it to a teammate cutting backdoor for an easy layup.
I didn’t see many shots taken from the four-point circles, but Coach Nancy Leiberman thinks that will change as the BIG3 goes on: “Now you can absolutely run a play where a guy spots up at the four-point circle and run diversion and false action away from that…people are seeing how effective the shot can be, Joe finished a game with it, Andre Owens beat us with a four-point shot last season.”
Coaches had slightly different opinions on the kind of players they were looking for, but there were certainly some similarities. Rick Mahorn is looking for players who can blend with the three international players that will be on the Aliens’ roster next season, specifically ones who can handle the more physical style of FIREBALL3 compared to FIBA 3×3, and that he was looking for guys who, regardless of their size, could “play big.”
Charles Oakley said he was looking for guys who could “play small-ball and defend.” Another captain was simply looking for “talent at any position.” Frank Nitty was looking for a “big man who could stretch the floor or a versatile wing.”
For another captain, it was all about shot selection and the ability to “play under control.” Former League MVP and 3 Headed Monsters Captain Rashard Lewis was looking for someone who wants to “win games instead of getting caught up in scoring.”
Coach Michael Cooper admits he’s a “defensive-minded guy”, and is looking for some “lockdown defenders.”
Finally, for Coach Lisa Leslie, it’s all about mentality – she said she was looking at “how guys were competing” and who were “making second efforts.”
Time will tell which of the players in Vegas on Saturday will end up on a BIG3 roster. All we know now is that each player left it all out on the floor, and it made for a very entertaining day of basketball in Sin City.
You can watch all the coverage from the Combine on the BIG3 YouTube Channel:
To find out which of the combine hopefuls will end up getting one of the 22 coveted newly available roster spots, make sure to tune into the BIG3 Draft held live from the Microsoft Lounge in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 25th at 8 PM EST.