Two years ago Michael Linklater and his Saskatoon squad placed second at the FIBA 3×3 basketball World Tour Finals. The team hoped to go one better and win it all in 2015 but an overtime loss in the Americas qualifier tournament robbed them of the chance.
Now the memory of that loss is serving as motivation for Team Saskatoon as it gears up for another run at its first championship.
“We’ve come close so many times, this year we want to finish the deal,” Linklater said.
Three-on-three hoops has come a long way since the first FIBA World Tour in 2012, to such an extent that it’s receiving serious consideration for inclusion in the summer Olympics as soon as 2020. But Linklater knows he may not have a better opportunity for international glory than he does this year.
“I’m 33, I’m kind of winding down and in that many more years it’s going to be a little bit harder on my knees, so I’m just taking it each day at a time,” he said.
In order to have the best chance at winning the 2016 championship, the Saskatchewan Huskies alum persuaded a former teammate to rejoin the fold. Willie Murdaugh was part of the silver-medal-winning three-on-three squad in 2014 and now, at age 47, he’s back for one final shot at the title.
“It’s my last year for sure, so (Michael) asked me to come back and I wanted to come back. Our goal is to beat Novi Sad. They’ve beaten us every time,” Murdaugh said.
Originally from Serbia, Team Novi Sad is the two-time defending world champion. They beat Saskatoon in the gold medal game two years ago and represent the biggest obstacle on the Bridge City squad’s road to victory.
“I think our team is a lot better. We’ve gotten better each year, so I’m sure this is the year we should win. We should beat Novi Sad. That’s my goal,” he reiterated.
“We haven’t been able to beat them at all so it’s been frustrating for us,” Linklater added.
Now it’s a matter of putting in the work.
“We have the experience and now we have the time to be training. We’ve been very fortunate with the Huskie program that they’ve come out and scrimmaged with us and allowed us to use their facility.”
Saskatoon’s first chance to qualify for the World Tour Finals is at the year’s first Masters tournament, scheduled for July 16 and 17 in Mexico City. The World Tour Finals take place October 27 and 28 in Abu Dhabi.