SINGAPORE (Singapore) - The sixth edition of the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup 2023 is approaching with much anticipation. Fans will be looking forward to seeing the top teams like 3-time defending champions on the men’s side, Australia, as well as the defending champions China from the women’s side, among many other star-studded squads.
But it is not only about those teams that are perched higher in the rankings such as Mongolia, Japan, or the Philippines. There are also teams that might be a bit lower in the table, but playing with just as much pride.
Among those teams are the men’s and women’s teams of New Caledonia, who are playing in the 3x3 Asia Cup for the first time ever.
"Representing New Caledonia in a competition like the 3x3 Asia Cup where there are all the major countries in the [region] is magical for a small country like ours."
"It will be the first time we will play on the international stage so there will be [great] teams against whom Caledonia Basketball will [have never] played against," said the coach of the men’s team, Stephane Saminadin, in a TV interview in French following a training session in the last weekend of February.
"At the Asia Cup, several big countries such as China and India will participate. On our side, we will face Thailand and Kazakhstan which might be less popular but still have a high level of competitiveness."
The players of the men’s team also share similar enthusiasm with their coach as they prepare to head into this big event.
"It will be the first time that we participate in this competition and It will be exceptional to be able to represent New Caledonia at the Asia Cup against all these great countries," expressed Jo Delaunay-Belleville, an expected key player for the team that will play in Singapore.
The 28-year-old has had experience representing New Caledonia in the past, whether it’s playing at the 2017 and 2022 Melanesian Basketball Cups or the 2019 Pacific Games. However, playing at a stage as big as the 3x3 Asia Cup will be an exciting first.
"I have already represented New Caledonia in [other] competitions, which is already an honor. But representing New Caledonia in a competition like the 3x3 Asia Cup where there are all the major countries in the [region] is magical for a small country like ours."
"Moreover, telling yourself that you are part of a 3x3 selection to represent your country is an honor and so rewarding because there are fewer players [on a team]."
While New Caledonia might be the "new kids on the block", that doesn’t mean that they will roll over to anyone either. Everyone is playing for national pride and for some, like Delaunay-Belleville, they are also playing with a bit more fire for certain reasons.
"Our coach has a great project and has prepared us well from the start," said Delaunay-Belleville of Saminadin. "My teammates and I will be ready to defend the colors of our country and give everything for the highest possible ranking. I also have the chance to participate in this competition with my wife, who is part of the women's team of New Caledonia."
That’s a perfect reminder that the determination and excitement for the New Caledonia national teams at the 3x3 Asia Cup is not only reserved for the men. The women’s team are also hyped and anticipated to be playing in Singapore as they have a packed schedule throughout the calendar.
Though they might be new to the competition, the team has been going through rigorous preparations, hoping to do the best they can.
"3x3 is really difficult as it involves more individual work and Caledonian basketball have not worked so much on individual development, especially for women. We have been working on that since January and it is starting to pay off," said Jean-Marc DelaVeuve, coach of the women’s national team.
"We have 8 players who keep working. During practices, we play against the men and they are not ridiculous compared to them."
In August, the women’s national team will travel to Melbourne where they are invited play to in a tournament. From there, they will go to the Solomon Islands for the Pacific Games. Nonetheless, their eyes are focused on their destination in Singapore.
"It’s incredible for me and my teammates to represent our country on a big stage like the 3x3 Asia Cup in Singapore… [there’s a lot of pride] in representing New Caledonia," said Noemie Ounou, an expected key player on the women’s team.
With that said, it’s only normal to have some jitters heading into a competition of this scale for the first time in the history of the nation.
"I’m anxious because it is the first tournament out of the Pacific in which we will participate."
But the bigger picture is still in sight for the New Caledonians.
"It’s a big opportunity for us because we will meet many teams with a lot of experience. Thanks to the 3x3 Asia Cup, we can only come out better in terms of basketball."