28 Mar 2023

New Caledonia basketballers set for debut at 3x3 Asia Cup

8:42 am on 28 March 2023
Jo Delaunay-Belleville in action for New Caledonia

Jo Delaunay-Belleville in action for New Caledonia Photo: FIBA Oceania

New Caledonia will make history by playing in basketball's 3x3 Asia Cup in Singapore for the first time.

Both its men's and women's teams will be taking part in the shortened version of the sport which has simplified rules to make it a fast-moving game with non-stop music. And as the name suggests, there are only three players on each side.

In fact, it's a double first as New Caledonia has never contested the Asia Cup for senior teams, men's or women's.

They will be joined by Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti in the men's competition, while Tahiti will also be contesting the women's event.

The tournament, which takes place from March 29-April 2, will be headlined by regional powerhouses Australia, who are the three-time defending men's champions, and women's champions China.

"It will be the first time we will play on the international stage so there will be great teams against whom Caledonia Basketball will [have never] played against," said the coach of the men's team, Stephane Saminadin.

"At the Asia Cup, several big countries such as China and India will participate. On our side, we will face Thailand and Kazakhstan who might be less popular but they still have a high level of competitiveness."

A key player for the tournament debutants is Jo Delaunay-Belleville, who has represented New Caledonia in Melanesian Cups and the Pacific Games. However, playing at a stage as big as the 3x3 Asia Cup will be a first for him.

"I have already represented New Caledonia in [other] competitions, which is an honour. But representing New Caledonia in a competition like the 3x3 Asia Cup where there are all the major countries in the [region] is magical for a small country like ours."

Ready for the challenge

Delaunay-Belleville is also playing with a bit more fire for certain reasons.

"Our coach has a great project and has prepared us well from the start," he said of Saminadin.

"My team-mates and I will be ready to defend the colours of our country and give everything for the highest possible ranking. I also have the chance to participate in this competition with my wife, who is part of the women's team of New Caledonia."

Though they might be new to the competition, the women's team has been going through rigorous preparations for the event.

"3x3 is really difficult as it involves more individual work and Caledonian basketball have not worked so much on individual development, especially for women. We have been working on that since January and it is starting to pay off," said Jean-Marc DelaVeuve, coach of the women's national team.

In August, the women's national team will travel to Melbourne where they are invited play to in a tournament. From there, they will go to Solomon Islands for the Pacific Games. Nonetheless, their eyes are focused on their immediate task in Singapore.

"It's incredible for me and my teammates to represent our country on a big stage like the 3x3 Asia Cup in Singapore… [there's a lot of pride] in representing New Caledonia," said Noemie Ounou, an expected key player for New Caledonia.

New Caledonia's Noemie Ounou

New Caledonia's Noemie Ounou Noemie Ounou Photo: FIBA Oceania

Tonga's tough task

Tonga's men will be facing some stiff competition in the qualifying round. They start off against New Zealand, before facing Turkmenistan and South Korea.

Key player Marcus Alipate knows from experience that this is a rather different competition from 'traditional' basketball.

"The intrigue [of playing in a competition like this] would be the opportunity to represent the Kingdom of Tonga with these other amazing countries," he said.

"It's a different game but equally challenging and rewarding. Last 3x3 Asia Cup (in 2022), the way the tournament was run to the crowds, with music and playing right on the water was one of the most interesting experiences I've had in my life playing basketball."

Alipate has played at high school and college level in the United States and professionally in both New Zealand and Australia.