Superpowers Riga and Novi Sad headline ULE 3x3's third season
8 Mar 2021
ST PETERSBURG (Russia) – Riga and new-look Novi Sad headline the third edition of the United League Europe 3x3 - a FIBA 3x3 World Tour qualifier - but a slew of talented Russian teams are set to challenge those superpowers.
The popular professional league in Russia's historical city of St Petersburg will start its first round on March 10-11 with two subsequent rounds before the final on April 26.
The 12-team league boasts the cream of Russian 3x3 teams, but the teams to beat will be reigning FIBA 3x3 World Tour champs Riga and powerhouse Novi Sad.
Riga are coming off their unforgettable triumph at the Jeddah Final to end the shortened 2020 season. All eyes will be on superhero duo Karlis Lasmanis and Nauris Miezis who took turns as lead action hero during the latter stages of last year's World Tour.
Everyone knows what to expect from the consistent Latvian force, but their predecessors Novi Sad have been shaken by the departures of long-time stars Marko Savic and Dejan Majstorovic.
It is, of course, foolish to write off the spectacular Serbs who still have 3x3 GOAT Dusan Bulut and a bunch of new teammates including former Zemun star Marko Dugosija.
Think it's just a two-horse race? Think again. Russian teams have been fine-tuning the past month during the country's 3x3 championship and this could give them the edge against their rusty opponents from overseas.
United League Europe 3x3 executive director Alexander Fomin rated Moscow Inanomo – well-known on the World Tour – and COP Moscow as the Russian teams to watch.
"I think the Russian teams will surprise because they are in good condition having played a lot of games, which is a big difference than just practicing," he said.
"Inanomo have been in good form and I think they will be a force. They have players who have experienced the World Tour and I think right now they are playing better than Gagarin.
"COP Moscow don't have the experience but they have talent led by Semen Debda, who I think has made the leap and he could become Russia's Dusan Bulut."
United League Europe 3x3 is starting to come of age having grown from eight teams in its 2019 debut and last year was showcased to a mainstream Russian audience with games broadcast on television.
"St Petersburg, like everywhere in Russia, is dominated by soccer and ice hockey but 3x3 is getting more popular and this league is really important because it can reach so many people," Fomin said.
"With the talent on display and with the Russian teams set to do well, I think this season's league will be even bigger and better than last year."
As the name of the league suggests, Fomin said he hoped to eventually spread it to other European countries but, in the meantime, believed St Petersburg would continue to showcase its hosting potential.