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Kara Lawson gears up to lead USA women's 3x3 Olympic team in Tokyo

Kara Lawson is ready to take her team of four USA 3x3 Olympians – Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Allisha Gray and Stefanie Dolson – to Tokyo and compete in the inaugural 3x3 event at the Olympic Games.

A former Olympian and gold medalist at the Beijing 2008 Olympics for Team USA in 5-on-5, Lawson was named head coach of the women’s 3x3 team in 2017 and has won six different gold medals on both the women’s and men’s sides of the game from the U19 to senior levels.

"This is my fifth year with the program, when I started with the program it had just been named an Olympic sport and we had to grow our program, anyone who has been around USA Basketball, we had to start a 3x3 program almost from scratch," said Lawson.

"I’m really proud of where our program is, at the U18 level we’re defending World Cup champions, both the men and the women, our senior women are in the Olympics, it’s not just because you roll out of bed and put on this shirt that you’re good at basketball and win international tournaments – it takes a lot of work."

At the FIBA 3x3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the USA women's team went unbeaten during the tournament, going 6-0 and beating Spain 21-13 to clinch a spot in Tokyo along with Japan and France.

The women’s 3x3 team is the only team in the Americas who secured a spot at the Olympics, qualifying in Graz, Austria at the end of May, and Lawson hopes to grow the game at home after millions watch the sport debut at the end of the month.

"We definitely want to grow the game in the Americas, we root for those teams all throughout the tournaments obviously if we’re not playing them, there’s countries in the Americas with great basketball cultures, Canada has a great basketball culture, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, their men’s team is really good on the world tour," said Lawson.

"We’re hoping to continue to build that up, I know Europe and Asia are the two continents that are most advanced in terms of having multiple 3x3 tournaments in their zones and having buy-in from multiple countries… but there are a lot of countries in the Americas playing it and playing at a high level, they just didn’t have the opportunity or get the job done at the OQT, but I do think in the future we will see more representation from the Americas at 3x3."

Lawson, the current head coach of the women’s basketball team at Duke University and former assistant for the Boston Celtics as well as WNBA champion, has been involved with USA Basketball for over 30 years and has a 2007 FIBA Americas Championship title in her collection along with her Olympic gold medal.

With her expertise, Lawson has helped put team USA on the map and believes this Olympic event will bring more eyes to the sport.

"3x3 is fast paced, I think that will draw people, just how quick the game is, how quickly it moves – its unpredictable, way more unpredictable than 5x5. You have 10 minutes, so by virtue of having less time, anything can happen," Lawson said.

"You think about how many times in 5x5 the heavy favorite is down by the end of the first quarter, people aren’t really alarmed by that… you don’t have time to turn it around in 3x3. If you’re down you’re out of the tournament, it's challenging."

Though Lawson cannot actually be on the sidelines during the matches under 3x3 rules, she is confident in the growth of the team to compete at any level.

"You have to be more prepared actually, you have to be sure that the players are equipped to coach themselves during the game because you can't help them, I can’t save them and call a timeout to draw something up," said Lawson.

"You prepare a lot whether you’re a 5x5 or 3x3 coach, but I have to prepare differently in that way, so we talk a lot about that as a group, so they know where I want to go in those situations."