Top 10 3x3 moments in Utsunomiya
UTSUNOMIYA (Japan) - After a long off-season, it's time for the fun and games to start with the FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2023 season launching at the Utsunomiya Opener on April 29-30.
With just over a week to go, let's count down the days and build the excitement by reminiscing over the top 10 moments from Utsunomiya, the historical Japanese city that has become a fan favorite 3x3 destination.
The 'Maestro' downs rival Liman on a Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater (2022)
We have to start with something fresh in our minds. No.1 Ub's dominance in 2022 can be traced back to Utsunomiya when they overcame arch-rival Liman in a classic quarter-final.
There was nothing separating these spectacular Serbs as it went down to the wire. Liman's Aleksandar Ratkov tied the scores at 17 with a Maurice Lacroix two-piece to send this crazy game into OT.
With Ub having possession to start OT, 3x3 great Dejan Majstorovic wanted to end things immediately. He took the ball from the logo and dribbled left before launching a tough step-back two-pointer over the outstretched arms of Stefan Kojic.
'The Maestro' lived up to his nickname to nail the Maurice Lacroix buzzer beater and cement his legacy as one of 3x3's best-ever snipers.
It fuelled Ub's run to the title in Utsunomiya and eventual domination of the World Tour last year.
Kilganon does the impossible (2016)
Not even Tom Cruise will dare attempt such a ridiculous stunt in Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning.
Because the real 'Mission Impossible' is a crazy Canadian dude called Jordan Kilganon, who performed one of his sickest dunks in Utsunomiya in 2016.
In an epic dunk off against Filipino Rey Guevarra, Kilganon needed something special so he pulled out his signature slam - the scorpion dunk only this was even tougher than usual.
He soared over two brave volunteers with ease then twisted his arms around like a gymnast all while not even looking at the rim.
It was absolutely perfectly executed and quite fitting for a dude with a first name of Jordan.
Peak Novi Sad dominate the competition (2016)
Before Ub Huishan NE took the World Tour to another level, compatriots Novi Sad were the standard last decade.
And Novi Sad's absolute peak might have been in 2016 - a year where their players led Serbia to a memorable FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2016 gold medal over a powerful USA team - and they were unstoppable in Utsunomiya after a slow start.
Shocked by Doha in the opener, Novi Sad were angrier than Skip Bayless on Twitter and they overwhelmed the opposition capped by beating Piran 21-13 in the final.
Dusan Bulut, 3x3's best player back then, was clutch with multiple game winners en route to the MVP, while partner-in-crime Dejan Majstorovic had the shooter's roll.
Eight years later, Majstorovic will be back in Japan and he still has the magic touch.
Savic steps up in epic final (2017)
Marko Savic was sometimes overshadowed by his superstar Novi Sad teammates Dusan Bulut and Dejan Majstorovic.
But he's undisputedly one of 3x3's greats with high IQ and unselfish play features of Savic's game.
He was at his best in 2017 in Utsunomiya when he denied a pumped-up Piran desperate for revenge after falling short to Novi Sad the year before.
There was nothing between the teams and the final deservedly went to OT when Savic took matters into his own hands. After terrific defence from Bulut forced a turnover, Savic completed the play with a beautiful finger roll to seal Novi Sad's epic victory.
The back-to-back triumph clearly meant a lot to Savic, who unleashed all his emotions by going down on his knees and roaring in delight.
High-flying Southerland steals the show (2018)
Jordan Southerland proved why some believe he's the best dunker in the world with a dunking masterclass in Utsunomiya five years ago.
He was a man possessed with unreal dunk after unreal dunk, including perfecting the scorpion slam before the exclamation point of a thunderous jam between his legs.
His rival Brodie Stephens was excellent in his own right, but couldn't match one of the all-time great dunking performances by an OG of the craft.
Liman's incredible comeback over Humpolec (2018)
Liman are 3x3 samurais as they memorably proved in an unforgettable comeback over Humpolec in the quarter-finals in 2018.
Humpolec are still probably scratching their heads wondering how this game slipped from their hands after leading 11-3 and then seemingly fending off a Liman rally to be on the brink of victory.
With a 20-16 edge, Humpolec should have expected to close it out comfortably only Liman doesn't just roll over.
Stefan Stojacic took charge with a banked two to reduce the deficit to 20-19 before he again went bang to pull off a miraculous Liman win en route to the title.
Everyone other than Humpolec fans should click below and watch the crazy game.
Olympic Gala (2019)
After 3x3 secured Olympic status in 2017, there was a lot of excitement for the 21-point game at the Tokyo Games.
The build up went into overdrive on November 1, 2019 ahead of the season ending Utsunomiya Final when FIBA announced the four teams per gender directly qualified to the Tokyo Olympics during a gala ceremony.
FIBA President Hamane Niang and FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis attended the gala which also featured several renowned Japanese performers.
Of course, 3x3's Olympic debut was delayed by 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic but proved to be a smash hit when the Tokyo Games took place in 2021.
It was a perfect taste of what's ahead at next year's Paris Olympics, where 3x3 boosted by packed crowds will surely steal the show.
Novi Sad defy odds to win fourth World Tour Final (2019)
In the last World Tour event of the decade, it was quite fitting that Novi Sad took the crown to end a period of dominance.
Unlike previous triumphs, Novi Sad were written off with some critics believing their best was in the past after an up and down season.
They were under further pressure after being thrashed by Princeton first up and only survived Day One by beating Zemun in OT.
It was the confidence boost needed for Novi Sad, who seemingly entered a time warp to recapture their absolute best in the knockout stages.
They beat rising Sakiai, fellow power Riga and had revenge over Princeton in the final to secure their fourth World Tour Final title.
It sealed Novi Sad's standing as the team of the 2010s.
Rivera upstages 'Smoove' in legendary dunk contest (2019)
There have been several lit dunk contests in Utsunomiya and this one might have been the most shocking because Isaiah Rivera, nicknamed "baby face", took down legend Dmitry 'Smoove' Krivenko.
Underdog Rivera had to do everything right under the bright lights and he did exactly that. Of course, it helps when you have a 46 inch vertical and the 22-year-old used his insane hops to his advantage to out duel 'Smoove'.
No literary prose could do justice to the dunk off, so click play below and enjoy the show.
There is something quite beautiful and spiritual about being in Utsunomiya, where the event is played at Futaarayama Jinja Shrine and starts with a truly memorable opening ceremony.
The highlight is the Mikoshi purification ceremony, which represents rites that help bring peace and harmony to the area.
It symbolises 3x3's embrace of different cultures and underlines why Utsunomiya has been such a popular destination on the World Tour over the years.