One of the fastest growing games in the world is 3-on-3 basketball, making its debut in the 2020 Olympics.

In the last five months, former Gophers sharpshooter Joey King not only fell in love with 3-on-3, but the team he joined established itself as one of the best in the country this year.

Most recently, King’s squad won the Red Bull Reign 3X3 World title Saturday at the historic Barry Farm Goodman League Courts in Washington D.C.

In the spring, Team 3Ball Minnesota also finished runner-up in the USA Basketball 3X3 national championships in Colorado Springs.

His teammates last week included former Minnesota State standouts Jamel Staten and Paris Kyles and former St. Mary’s player Brensley Haywood.

“A couple of my buddies got me into it once they heard I wasn’t going back overseas after my wedding,” said King, who played three years for Gophers coach Richard Pitino from 2013-16.  “It ended up being the fastest paced basketball game I’ve ever experienced. It’s kind of addicting in a way to play. It’s so fun. I think that’s why it’s growing so quickly.”

Every kid growing up playing hoops in your driveway, playground court or local gym has gone 3-on-3 probably since before you can remember. But the game on a worldwide scale officially got going in 2010 with the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore.

FIBA picked it up with the inaugural 3X3 World Championships for men and women in 2012 in Athens, Greece. The International Olympic Committee announced last November that 3-on-3 basketball would be added to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. Rapper Ice Cube also founded the Big3 last year for former NBA players, growing the game’s popularity even more in the U.S. being televised on national TV.

“For me, it was just finding a way to stay competitive and have fun playing basketball,” King said. “It’s fun to go play with your buddies at Lifetime Fitness, but it’s not enough for me. I was looking to play in the states at a high level. Instead of going overseas for nine months, you go on a long weekend or something. It ended up being perfect.”

Former Gophers All-Big Ten guard Nate Mason won the first annual Dos Equis 3X3U national championship in San Antonio in April. His Big Ten squad (featuring Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate, Purdue’s Vince Edwards and Indiana’s Robert Johnson) were among 128 players from 32 Division I conferences in the three-day tournament televised on ESPN. The prize was $50,000.

In late April, King made his 3-on-3 debut with the Kyles, Haywood and former Winona State forward Joel Armstrong at the USA Basketball 3X3 national championships at the Olympic Training Center. Team 3Ball Minnesota finished second to Ariel Slow and Steady, which competed in the FIBA world championships last year. Along the way, King and company upset a squad led by former Purdue star Robbie Hummel. 

It all started for King when he met Haywood two summers ago teaming up to win the 2017 Twin Cities Pro-AM in Minneapolis. Through playing in that league, King also got introduced to Kyles, who is one of the top 3-on-3 scorers in the nation and ranked among the top-ranked players nationally. Former Northern Iowa standout Eric Coleman has played with King as well. In winning the Red Bull tournament last weekend, King said his guys “shot the lights out” to finish 18-0 and win $12,000.

A fan favorite during his Gophers career, King averaged 11.6 points, while leading the team with 40.1 percent shooting from three-point range his senior year in 2015-16. The Eagan native finished eighth all-time in three-pointers (140) and three-point percentage (39.8) in school history. His 88.6 percent shooting from the free throw line in 2015-16 also ranks second in the U’s single-season records.

King’s last professional season was with Kataja in the Basketball Champions League in Finland in 2017. He turned down a contract to play in Belgium this year to focus on his family life getting married in July. Now he runs King Basketball Academy full time, which includes private training, running camps and AAU teams at the youth level in the West and South metro.

At 24 years old, King still feels he’s got some playing days left in him, so the surging popularity of 3-on-3 could extend his basketball career a bit.

“It fits my game really well,” King said. “It’s a ton of fun for me. Maybe, I’ll play in more tournaments and contest for one of those four or five American (national team) spots. I don’t know. But we’ll figure that out as time goes. The Olympics aren’t until 2020. We’ll see what happens.”