All we learned from FIBA 3x3 World Tour Utsunomiya Opener 2024

UTSUNOMIYA (Japan) - The 13th edition of the FIBA 3x3 World Tour started in unbelievable fashion at the Utsunomiya Opener 2024 filled with dazzling plays, Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beaters and epic finishes. 

Let's take a look at the two-day spectacle played on April 27-28. 

Is Miami now the team to beat? 

It looked like a familiar story was unfolding in the final when two-time defending champs Ub Huishan NE (SRB) took a 20-19 after superstar Strahinja Stojacic did what LeBron couldn't do against the Nuggets and hit the wide-open long range bomb in the clutch. 

Like so many times before, it appeared the No.1 team in the world would somehow find a way to pull out a thrilling victory, but up stepped Jimmer Fredette who unleashed an epic Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater to seal Miami's (USA) triumph. 

It wouldn't be fair to say the baton has changed because Ub deserve respect after two years of complete domination and they were so close to a famous three-peat in Utsunomiya. 

But Miami made an early season statement and confirmed their status as Ub's greatest challenger. Fredette lived up to his reputation as 3x3's deadliest assassin, but he was not a one-man band. 

Dylan Travis and Canyon Barry were walking buckets throughout, but it was youngster Bryce Willis who ignited Miami with his incredible athleticism. He had the big shoes of OG Kareem Maddox to fill, but Willis didn't miss a beat as he anchored Miami's defense superbly. 

Miami have made the early running on the World Tour and they've drawn first blood leaving Ub with plenty to think about. 

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Has Jimmer taken Strahinja's crown? 

This is a bit like the first question. We can't quite signal a power shift because Strahinja Stojacic was pretty amazing in Utsunomiya after finishing second in player-value (50) and third in scoring (31).

It's going to take more than one event for 'Dr Strange' to lose his best player alive status, but he hasn't faced a tougher competitor in the last few years than former NBA player Jimmer Fredette. 

Fredette is one of the few players on the planet who can legit stare down Stojacic when the game is on the line. The duo shared an epic mano-o-mano battle in the final as they both emptied their bullets. 

But it was Fredette who was the last man standing as he hit the dagger to prove that he is only getting better on the half-court. Fredette played like a man on a mission in Utsunomiya and he is extra pumped up in 2024 with the Paris Olympics around the corner. 

We just can't wait until Fredette and Stojacic square off again in what is becoming an epic rivalry between 3x3's biggest stars. 

Ub are in the fight of their lives in 2024

Entering the season, Ub would have known that dominating for a third straight year will be their hardest ever challenge. 

And so it has proved first up with Ub leaving Utsunomiya with the unusual feeling of disappointment. For the last two seasons, Utsunomiya has been a great launching pad for the Serbs who absolutely dominated the first half of both 2022 and 2023. 

But Ub didn't do a lot wrong this time around and came within an inch of another title. Stojacic was spectacular, while legendary Dejan Majstorovic and muscular Nemanja Barac also scored at will. 

They do have room for improvement with classy Marko Brankovic struggling with his outside shot, but despite those struggles he showcased nerves of steel to hit the Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater to down Riffa in the semis. 

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Ub didn't quite leave Utsunomiya empty-handed with Majstorovic adding to his collection of Ws in one of his favorite destinations after taking out the Maurice Lacroix shoot-out contest. 

How will Riffa and Amsterdam respond in Marseille? 

It's probably a good thing for Riffa (BRN) and Amsterdam that the Marseille Masters is a month away. Because both talented teams will need time to recover after suffering heart-breaking one-point semi-final losses to dash their dreams of early season glory. 

Riffa (BRN) is a new name on the World Tour, but their brilliant Belgians are well known and again proved they will be a force this season. All eyes were on Thibaut Vervoort, who was reuniting with his compatriots and he performed well but it was Dennis Donkor who stole the show. 

He's known for his lockdown D, but Donkor is also a pure bucket getter as he showed in Utsunomiya with an incredible 41 points from 4 points to lead all scorers. 

Donkor has taken his offensive game to another level and that should be a tonic for Riffa, who were left devastated after falling short to Ub in a classic semi. 

The Dutch Masters had their title hopes dashed by Miami in a thrilling semi. Worthy de Jong again was a human highlight reel, but his shot from deep was off during the event so he knows he has an extra gear in him. 

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Sniper Arvin Slagter was a worthy sidekick to de Jong and that extra firepower should make Amsterdam feel good about their chances of bouncing back in Marseille. 

Venue in Utsunomiya filled to capacity amid incredible atmosphere 

 For the third straight year, Utsunomiya hosted the season-opener and once again it was the perfect way to launch the World Tour. 

What makes the event so special and why it is a favorite for so many - even Strahinja Stojacic confessed it was his personal No.1 - is the combination of passionate fans and historical setting. 

The half-court is set in one of the most picturesque and historical sites on the World Tour - the Futaarayama Jinja shrine, which was founded about 1,600 years ago. 

The backdrop is filled with fans lining the shrine's famous steps as Utsunomiya delivered another unforgettable event. 

It was the start of an extravaganza in the iconic Japanese city with the FIBA 3x3 Universality Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2 being held there from May 3-5. 

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