Bloomington native Jenna Smith and the rest of the MN OGs grew up playing basketball together, competing with and against each other since high school. Even when it was time for college, all four members landed in the Big Ten as student-athletes.
So when the four heard about the Red Bull 3-on-3 basketball tournament happening in Blaine last Saturday, forming a squad full of Division I talent felt natural, even a decade after college.
After winning the bracket, they're now one step closer to representing the United States at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — though there's still a long way to go.
With 3-on-3 hoops in the Olympics next year, the tournament was the first step in selecting the U.S. representatives. It was one of 22 qualifiers taking place from June to September, culminating in four regionals during the fall. Then it all comes down to one national event in the spring, with the winner getting to represent the United States in Tokyo next year.
"The pace was 10 times harder than 5-on-5," Smith's teammate, Breanna Salley, said. "You're actively moving, there's 10 seconds of possession. Just the intensity you have to play with is brutal. Not only that, with all the different rules, your mind has to be right."
Together, the four formed the MN OGs. In winning the tournament, they split a $2,000 award with the guarantee of moving on to the next round.
Smith, an Illinois alumnus, still plays professionally overseas — for nearly a decade now. Salley and Ashley Ellis-Milan work for the Timberwolves and Lynx, both in leadership roles of the basketball academy. Salley, Ellis-Milan and Kiara Buford all played at Minnesota for at least one year. All four were raised in the Twin Cities area.
"The Big Ten, we grew up on it," Smith said. "It was just an honor to be in the Big Ten — that's what we're bred on in Minnesota."
Treyball MN, the winner of the men's bracket, knows all about the 3-on-3 game. In the past three years, the Minnesotans traveled to Europe and other parts of the world to compete in various tournaments. The team is based out of the Twin Cities, with six players rotating in to fill the four-person roster.
"Finally got one in our backyard, so that was nice, and we didn't have to travel for this one," Kurtis Koenig said.
According to Treyball player Brensley Haywood, the pace of the game is nothing like full-court 5-on-5, where you can potentially take some possessions off. Between the half-court style and 12-second shot clock of 3-on-3, there's little time to rest. Once a basket is scored, it's also make-it, take-it, meaning there's no inbounding the ball.
It's constant action — and with only six players on the court, also a lot of spacing.
"In 5-on-5, you get beat to the bucket, you might have a little help side; 3-on-3, there's no help," Haywood said. "Individually, you have to be solid. If you're not solid individually, 3-on-3 might not be the sport for you."
Treyball MN practices specifically for 3-on-3 in between all the travel. The players mostly competed in at least college ball, with Haywood and others playing professionally overseas some years. Early on and still dabbling with the game, the team lost a few tournaments and matches it felt it should have won. So the players ramped up practices.
The road to the Olympics is long, with several steps ahead for teams vying to compete in Tokyo and represent their country. Treyball and MN OGs, though, have made it past the first round at least.
"Everybody's dedicated to it. That's a huge part," Haywood said. "Being able to travel all over the world and play basketball."