3 on 3 basketball, the new game turning heads in Kenya

The 3 on 3 basketball was recently introduced in Kenya and has taken root in the country's games. PHOTO/Federation of International Basketball (FIBA).
The 3 on 3 basketball was recently introduced in Kenya and has taken root in the country's games. PHOTO/Federation of International Basketball (FIBA).
  • The game was introduced about a decade ago, getting to Kenya four years ago.
  • It’s a unique one in different aspects.
  • In 3 on 3 basketball, you can substitute players whenever you like. 

Basketball 3 on 3 rose from the streets into the Olympic games within just a decade. 

In Kenya, the game is now turning heads, especially after both the women’s and the men’s teams made it to the quarterfinals of the commonwealth games and the world cup. 

But what is it about the 3 on 3 game? Here is what you need to know:

3 on 3 basketball, which was once only seen as a recreational activity for the backyard, has evolved into a competitive sport governed by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) with recognized regulations.

It is a simple, flexible game, played three a side plus one substitute, with one backboard and in a half-court set-up. 

The game has shot into the limelight, attracting fans because of the fast pace on the courts. It’s a ten-minute play time, or the first to hit 21 points carry the game.

Why 3 on 3?

“I love playing 3 on 3 because I feel like I fit for it more, compared to the 5 on 5, because I use my speed well,” Lavender Opondo, a basketball ball player, opened up in an interview with a media outlet.

With the game on half-court, seamless transitions between the offence and defence, and only ten minutes on the clock, the 3 on 3 basketball action tends to be much like popular modern-day variations of traditional sports with frantic entertainers.

“It’s quite challenging and interesting, 3 on 3 is more of a one-on-one game, five on five is more of a team game,” Caleb Obie, Coach, Utalii 3 on 3 Basketball Team, opened up in an interview.

Lavender Opondo, a basketball ball player, holding a 3*3 game ball. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The game’s core idea is the same as regular basketball, but with offensive teams given up to 12 seconds to make their shot, half of what is allowed in regular basketball.

The fact that the game continues after a basket is made is another significant distinction from traditional basketball. 

When a basket is made in 3 on 3, the ball is immediately switched between teams, and play continues uninterrupted. 

This is one of the reasons why players will occasionally refer to a 3 on 3 basketball game as “a 10-minute sprint.”

“So, we have to learn as coaches how to train 3 on 3. Right now they are here and, in the morning, they were training with the national team, so definitely, they are putting in more work,” Obie remarked about his Utalii team.

3 on 3 basketball focuses more on agility and versatility rather than endurance and tactics as the regular basketball does, but to be a professional, one needs to develop all skills.

In the Kenyan scene, the game hasn’t yet been rolled down to the players coming up, leaving it to be mostly dominated by the seniors. 

In fact, there is no league for 3 on 3 in Kenya.

“It’s a little bit tough but we thank the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts because this season they have just introduced the 3×3 on the high school level. 

So, starting now, going forward, it will be easier for us to transition from high school to the university and to the national team level,” said Obie.

Game development endorsements, events

Some of the Kenya’s women players of the 3 on 3 basketball team. PHOTO/FIBA.

The game has been played in a lot of Kenyan arenas since its introduction to the country four years ago, with the most recent being the Kenya Secondary School Games that started early this year. 

The national schools already had a rollout during piloting last year, but the overall country, including small secondary schools, are all going to participate in the 3 on 3 basketball contest this second term school ball games. 

Red Bull Half Court Tournament, also known as the 3 on 3 Tournament, also held one of a kind event to find the best street baller in order to boost the game’s popularity in the Kenyan scene last year.

That was just before the FIBA Under 23 held its Southern African qualifiers at the Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.

The 3×3 basketball tournament is now in over 25 countries worldwide. This year, about 15,000 expected participants will be competing, making Red Bull Half Court the world’s most global streetball tournament.

The head coach of the Kenya 3 on 3 urged different stakeholders to introduce the league in Kenya.

The introduction would aid in upholding the players’ status as not only local league champions but even players in both the Euro and United States Games. 

This came after Kenya was the only African representative of the game in the commonwealth games hosted in Birmingham mid-last year.

Most important rules to watch out

The game is surrounded by several rules. 

Start of the game

The game starts with a coin toast; the team that wins the coin toast decides whether they want the ball at the start of the game or the potential overtime.

Game time and overtime

The game is played for 10 minutes, or the team that hits the 21-point mark carries the day. If the minutes elapse with a tie, the game goes into overtime, but the first team to score two points carries the win.

“3 on 3 is an intense game; you need a lot of reaction, quickness, scoring, and quick movement.

A section of Kenya’s 3 on 3 men’s basketball team. PHOTO/FIBA.

That is what we are working on right now, to get our players quick on their feet, able to get the shots going in, and also slide to be able to defend and guard their men,” Mary Cheroi, a coach, said in an up-close interview.

Check ball

The defensive player hands the ball to the offensive player in the middle of the court beyond the throwing circle after each stoppage (ball out of bounds, foul, after free throws, etc.). 

The game doesn’t start until this “check” is complete. The moment the attacking player gains possession of the ball, the shot clock and game clock begin.


The ball is no longer in your possession after a successful basket. 

But unlike traditional basketball, there is no throw-in or check before the game starts. 

There are just two pre-requisites: The team that has given up the basket must first advance the ball behind the throwing circle once or until the ball has been passed or dribbled out of the tiny semicircle; the team that made the basket and is now defending must not hinder the attacking player in the semicircle underneath the hoop.

Before attacking, the defending side must bring the ball behind the throwing circle if it wins the ball by a defensive rebound, block, or steal.

Changing players

In 3 on 3 basketball, you can substitute players whenever you like. 

The game must be interrupted as the only criterion. 

The replacement player must start the game with the replacement player, and the substitution must happen on the out-of-bounds line far from the basket.

It’s the fourth year since 3 on 3 basketball tournaments were introduced in Kenya and a decade since it was created by FIBA, the world’s basketball governing body. 

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It has gained a positive reception with Team Kenya, both men and women qualifying for its first World Cup, and junior players are more eager than before to know about this type of basketball.

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Ms. Loise is a Communication Specialist with a bachelor's degree in Publishing and Media Science from Moi University, Kenya. She is a dedicated web developer and a climate change and environment writer. She also owns diverse skills in social media marketing. Her contact: loiselenser@gmail.com


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