Canyon Barry stars for U.S. in 3×3 basketball, decades after Hall of Fame dad’s Olympic regret

Canyon Barry
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A little over a year ago, Canyon Barry wasn’t thinking at all about 3×3 basketball, but USA Basketball was definitely thinking of him.

Since, Barry went 0-4 in his first set of 3×3 games, observed by USA Basketball officials. He broke a fibula. He also rebounded from each obstacle, winning a world title last June and making the national team again this winter.

The half-court basketball discipline was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games. In less than a year, Barry became part of the nation’s core group.

Barry, 26, played at the College of Charleston and then the University of Florida. He’s dribbled professionally in Finland, the Czech Republic, China and Des Moines, appearing in 61 games for the NBA G League’s Iowa Wolves between the last two seasons.

Barry has yet to play an NBA game — unlike his Hall of Fame father, Rick, and half-brothers JonBrent and Drew — but he became the first Barry to win a championship in a USA jersey at the 2019 FIBA 3×3 World Cup. He would choose the title of Olympian over playing one NBA game.

“Being able to represent your country on the biggest stage is something you can’t pass up,” he said last month. “Obviously, the NBA is the best league in the world, and it’s an absolute dream to try and make that and achieve that, but the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Rick knows that well. Canyon’s mom, Lynn, may know it better.

She’s the one who first mentioned 3×3 to him last March. Lynn, whose jersey was retired by William & Mary, was an assistant director for the U.S. women’s national team through the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics.

“When I was little, I would always be in the gym running around in practice while the Olympic team was practicing,” said Barry, who has a a physics degree and a master’s in nuclear engineering. “I just remember Lisa Leslie, Swin Cash, Sheryl Swoopes, all those amazing female players … Now to be a part of that USA Basketball program, it’s kind of come full circle.”

Last spring, Barry was one of many G League, NCAA and overseas players invited by USA Basketball to take part in a 3×3 training camp. Olympic 3×3’s roster regulations largely rule out the potential for NBA players. The federation was on the lookout for talent.

Barry’s team of G League players went 0-4 at the national championships in May, yet USA Basketball still picked him for the four-man World Cup roster.

“Canyon has been on USA Basketball’s radar since he was a younger player, because he was a fairly well-recognized player,” said Jay Demings, who oversees U.S. 3×3 and is part of the selection committee. “You would think a lot of what you would look for in a 5-on-5 player would translate perfectly to 3×3, but in fact, It requires a number of different skill sets that not everybody possesses, but I think Canyon does possess those skills that translate to success in 3×3.

“He’s obviously mobile. He has size in terms of height [listed at 6-6]. His length. He’s a strong, tough player. He defends well, but he can also handle the ball, and he can also score at the rim and outside. When you’re looking for a prototype player, you want players that not only play the game like Canyon but think the game like he does.”

For the World Cup, Barry was put on a U.S. team with Purdue star Robbie HummelKareem Maddox and Damon Huffman (who replaced G Leaguer Briante Weber).

Hummel, Maddox and Huffman had all stopped playing five-on-five and were part of Team Princeton, a group of players scattered around the country led by a 3×3 legend who famously beat Michael Jordan in one-on-one.

They were seeded seventh at the World Cup in Amsterdam, yet went undefeated to the U.S.’ first title. Serbia and Qatar combined to take the previous five.

Barry went back to Des Moines. In the fourth game of the G League season on Nov. 16, he broke a fibula contesting a three-pointer.

“Landed wrong, heard a snap,” he said. “Immediately you think the worst. ACL, something, knee. It was just a fibula [non-weight-bearing bone], clean break.”

Barry fortunately only missed two months. A month into his return, Barry joined other 3×3 players for a camp in Chicago during NBA All-Star Weekend to determine the roster for March’s Olympic qualifying tournament. Being named to the qualifying team wouldn’t guarantee a place on the Olympic team, but it bodes well.

Barry made it, again with Hummel and Maddox, plus Dominique Jones.

“We expected him to be a step behind,” because of the injury, said Demings, who told Barry he made the team at a breakfast, “but in fact he proved to be a step ahead.”

The qualifying tournament, slated for India this week, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. If Barry plays at an Olympics, he would be the first Barry to do so. But not the first Barry to attempt to make an Olympic team.

“The biggest disappointment in my career was not getting an opportunity to actually play in the Olympics,” said Barry’s father, the Golden State Warriors legend. He tried out for the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

“It was a joke,” he said of the process. Rick asserted the 1964 Olympic team was largely decided before more than 90 players tried out from the NCAA, NAIA, AAU and the Armed Forces. He believes there was also a quota system determined beforehand to take a certain number of players from one or more of the groups.

The 12-man Olympic team ended up including five NCAA players (but not Rick Barry), six from the AAU and one from the NAIA. Bill Bradley and Larry Brown were among those who went on to take gold in Tokyo.

“My dad always says one of his biggest regrets of his career was never being able to be an Olympian,” Canyon Barry said.

A USA Basketball spokesperson said they weren’t aware of any officials who are still alive who were part of the selection process.

Rick Barry did play one exhibition for the U.S. against a Soviet team as a University of Miami senior, when he led the NCAA in scoring at 37.4 points per game.

“I don’t think I got to keep [the jersey],” he said, “but I was just proud to have it on.”

But he would rather talk about Canyon, whose world title last year was cause for celebration back home.

“He’s already done something that nobody’s ever done in our family,” Rick said.

MORE: LeBron, Curry lead finalists for Olympic men’s basketball roster

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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