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Top Ranked 3×3 FIBA Basketball Player Marcel Esonwune Brings Attention To The New Olympic Sport

Marcel Esonwune | Basketball Player | FIBA 3x3

It’s not like the traditional 5v5, it’s completely different.

Marcel Esonwune

Basketball Player

FIBA 3x3

×This interview was completed before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The interview with Marcel Esonwune was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us what a typical day in the life of Marcel Esonwune looks like.

A normal day as a professional 3×3 athlete would usually start after 6pm when I get off my regular job at Omega Brokerage where I am an accountant. In the evening, the team meets up for practice where we would work out and go overplays. If we don’t have practice, I work out on my own. To be a 3×3 athlete you have to be in tip-top shape, it’s a very physically demanding sport.

The upcoming Tokyo Olympics will be the first time that 3x3 basketball makes its appearance as an Olympic sport and you were fortunate enough to be named to the training squad competing for one of those top four spots. How difficult is it to qualify for the USA 3x3 Olympic team?

It’s amazing that 3×3 is now an official Olympic discipline. To even be considered in the pool of players who will go on to represent this wonderful country is an honor in its self.

Has it always been your dream to be a professional basketball player? When did you come to this realization? Why?

It wasn’t my dream to be a basketball player.

When I moved to the United States in 2006, I enrolled in York college to get a good education. I noticed that the school has a soccer team so I decided to try out for the soccer team because I grew up playing soccer in Nigeria. During the tryout period for the soccer team, there a was a student vs staff basketball game where only students who where not on the team where allowed to play against faculty so I decided to play.

During that game the head coach of the basketball team was playing on the faculty team and was impressed by my rebounding ability. He reach out to me about joining the team but I thought he was joking because I had never played basketball in my life and now you want me to playing in a college team?

Next thing I knew I was playing college basketball instead of soccer.

My dream was to go to school get a good education and start my life. When I started playing in college I realized that I was good but not good enough to be a professional 5v5 athlete.

 

What attracted you to the 3x3 game after having a very successful college career at York?

As I mentioned, I knew I was good but maybe not good enough to depend financially on basketball. So I pursued an accounting career, but continued to play basketball after college. The fast pace and physicality of the sport, that’s what attracted me to 3×3. It’s not like the traditional 5v5, it’s completely different. I started playing 3×3 in the 2016 Mexico City Masters event with team New York City where I was named the most spectacular player of that tournament. After the Mexico City Masters, our team didn’t go to another event, but Dominique Jones from Team Harlem, one of the top 3×3 teams in the world, reached out to me to join them in the 2018 season with our first tournament that year being the Mexico City Masters that year. 

Is playing for the Nigerian National Team a goal of yours?

It’s a definitely a goal and a dream of mine to represent my birth country of Nigeria in any level of competition.

How does it feel having had such a late start to the game of basketball to now be ranked 22nd best player in the world and 5th best in the USA by FIBA?

It feels amazing! It shows that hard work pays off. When I started playing, many players had already mastered their craft. Picking up a basketball for the very first time in college started me at a disadvantage, but that motivated me to out work my teammates and my competion.

In 2019, you made the list of top 7 most spectacular players of the season and finished as the runner up! What is it about your game that entertains an audience?

That’s just what our team is, spectacular. We play hard and play smart. We do it in style and the fans love that. They like watching me because they know that I can and I will put a defender on a poster or block a shoot into the 5th row. Fans love my athleticism, it’s exciting to watch.

How do you think that 3x3 is changing the sport of basketball as a whole?

I think once 3×3 hits the Olympic stage it’s going to really take off. It attracts a different range of audiences and it will pick up tremendous steam. 3×3 games are short, they don’t require fans to set aside 3 hours of their day to watch a game. 

Aside from the number of players on the court, what are the biggest differences between the traditional game and 3x3?

3×3 is much faster pace than 5v5. There are no coaches in 3×3. 3×3 games are only 10 mins or until someone scores 21, but it’s more like a 10 min sprint because of the constant movement and level of athletism required. The game doesn’t stop until there is a foul or a dead ball. One thing I can say personally is that I had to change my work out routines and diet to better adapt to the physical demand of the sport. The pace and the excitement lasts the entire duration of the game.

Stacey Leawood Stacey's Final Thoughts

The new Olympic discipline of 3×3 basketball is sport we didn’t know we needed! Getting to talk with Marcel Esonwune, one of the best and most spectacular players in the world about the emergence of the new sport was an amazing opportunity to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of fans hanging, waiting for the emergence of 3×3 on the Olympic stage but I think it’s safe to say that we will be sufficiently entertained at the Tokyo Olympics.

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