The Serbians, unstoppable at Nike 3×3 Challenge. Zmajevi clinch title against “familiar foe” Epic Jam. The juniors stole the show with dramatic last-second deciders

Serbia made the most out of Nike 3×3 Challenge, the season opener for the Romanian 3×3 calendar, by Sport Arena Streetball. The two teams that had made the trip to Bucharest from the neighboring country reached the final of the Open category, undefeated, and faced-off in an all-Serbian final.  Zmajevi, the favorite of the pair, went on to conquer the trophy and booked a place to the Master tournament that will grant the access to the FIBA 3×3 World Tour stop in Debrecen for the winners of the Open Men Category.

“It was a great experience for us. The tournament is very well organized and it made us play high level. We’ve been playing very well; we fought for every ball – that’s how we won the title. We played the final against a team we know so well. We know all the guys perfectly and we know that they are fighters too, but we did our job, we were strong and focused. It was a really great experience, a great weekend and we hope to be back as soon as possible”, Vuk Jovanovic said.

Zmajevi, the big winner at Nike 3×3 Challenge, Open category – men, after a 12-8 final against fellow-Serbian team, Epic Jam

At the start of the semis, Romania was hoping for an all-Romanian fight between Școala Veche and Rahova’s Finest for the big 1.000 euro prize-money check awarded to the winner of the Open category. But, at the end of the semis, it was Serbia that monopolized the final act of the draw, through its strong teams, Epic Jam and Zmajevi.

Școala Veche did not benefit from having a bye in the last 16, despite a strong showing early on Sunday, that saw them end the quarterfinal match in only six and a half minutes. “We’ve played them several times last year and you can never say it’s a sure win against against Șacalii. You play for every ball, till the end. But, we got a lot of our 2-pointers in. We got a good, fast win which will help us, by giving us extra-time to recover”, thought Cristian Sandu, a key-player for Școala Veche. However, the extra-edge and freshness did not show in the semis and this time, Șscoala Veche was on the wrong side of a match that ended before the time had expired. Epic Jam sealed the win, 21-11. “Our intensity reached the proper standards too late. They are very good, very well-trained. But we will meet again and the match will look different”, Cristian Petrescu promised.


For the European Champion, Cătălin Vlaicu, and his team, the emotions were stronger, as their semifinal game was much closer at the beginning. Rahova’s Finest and Zmajevi tested each other, went toe to toe and exchanged leadership, but all hope was lost when, late into the match, a ball sent from outside wobbled on the ring, went in and out, finally refusing to get through the ring. Zmajevi breathed easy and went on to win the match, 16-13, heading to the final.

Zmajevi kept the swinging, winning a tactical and physically-demanding final against Epic Jam, a team that for the first time at the Nike 3×3 Challenge failed to reach the 20 points-mark (in 7 matches!).

Golden Buzzers, the queens at Nike 3×3 Chellenge, after a 14-11 final with Emil Sqaud

Only one of the five categories at Nike 3×3 Challenge featured a women draw – the Open one. Nicoleta Crăciunescu, Andreea Zamoianu, Mihaela Jalbă and  Patricia Bădică managed to win the 4-team race. Building an island of their own, the girls celebrated in their corner each of their wins, after more error-filled matches compared to the men’s side. “We were nervous, playing in front of so many people. I think we did dominate the competition, having lost only one match, on Saturday. The semifinal was even tougher than the final, because we faced a team that belonged to an upper age-group, U20, while we are U16. But, we managed”, Patricia Bădică (14 years old) said with a smile.

“Mascații”, champions at U18, men, after a final against La Sanky, 11-20

None of the celebrations seen on Sunday at the ParkLake mall could compete with the explosion of joy witnessed after the second U18 semifinal. Dragomir Alexandru jumped high in the air after the referee announced his team, La Sanky, won against the “Hard To Find” Boys, 11-10. And here is why: he had scored with 10 seconds left on the clock, he had taken his team in front, by a mere point, but missed two free throws in the last second of the game. The other team was left with fractions of a second o score and steal the win. “I felt it was the winning shot, because there was so little time left, about 10 seconds, and I knew my team could defend well and we would win the match. But then the missed throws came and I got really nervous, although I knew it was virtually imposible for them to score in 4 tenth of a second. I wanted to fix it somehow. I settled down when I heard the final whistle and I realized we were ok”, told the tale of the match Alexandru, a player aged only 15.

The final ended with an identical score, 11-10, but this time Dragomir Alexandru and La Sanky were on the losing end of the score. The script of the match was similar too: Mascații were defending in the last minute, Alexandru had a final scoring opportunity in the dying seconds of the match, but he could not start another race to the panel, but rather chose to try a 2-pointer, with his ball missing the target by much. Mihai Juncu described the final, after securing the title: “We were quite nervous in the final, but even more so in the semis, where I think we faced a stronger team. But with all those people watching, we were nervous and we made a few beginners’ errors. I’m happy we managed to pull it off”, said the 17-years old player from Mascații.

Babylon win at 35+, after 17-14 in the final against “Make and his friends

The two teams that had managed to win their groups on Saturday went through the semis to face each other in the final. Former Romanian national team playmaker, Paul Helcioiu, kept the hopes alive for “Make and his friends”, but his five consecutive 2-point shots were not enough to secure victory for the former FIBA Europe Cup winner’s crew. Babylon was more effective with their shots and punished their rivals from the free throws line, thus ensuring the trophy.

Young Sharks were the first champions crowned at NIKE 3×3 Challenge, at U14, men, after 18 – 9 in the final with Șoimii Galbeni (“Yellow Hawks”)

“It was ok, but a little easy – the final. We did get a lot of the distance shots in and that was cool”, this is how one of the winning players described the title match. Reaching the final with a bye in the semis and having a rather slow start to the battle, Toma Alistari, Abdullah Mounir, Matei Dorneanu and Tudor Toda, a.k.a. Young Sharks scored several consecutive points. The Hawks could not match their rivals’ intensity, despite loud cheers from the stands. The end of the match could have been much closer, given the fact that when The Sharks scored twice from outside, The Yellow Hawks replied with a two 2-point shots of their own. “There were a few nerves and doubts there, because we thought they were coming back”, admitted Mounir afterwards.

Article by Cezara Paraschiv

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