There was hardly any surprise when the Serbian men's team captured their third straight FIBA 3x3 World Cup title on Tuesday night at the Philippine Arena.
It was an all too familiar sight as the quartet of Dusan Bulut, Dejan Majstorovic, Marko Savić, and Stefan Stojačić had ribbons and gold medals wrapped around their necks after defeating Netherlands, 16-13, in the finals. Majstorovic, ranked the world's best 3x3 player, had the Serbian flag draped over his shoulders as confetti reigned down.
Serbia was crowned champion for the fourth time since the tournament's inception in 2012. Their only silver finish was four years ago in Russia.
"Every one of them was hard. There are always teams, you must play 100% to beat any team," Savić, who ranked second behind teammate Majstorovic, said about all their titles.
Serbia is the best 3x3 basketball team in the world and has set the bar for international success. The rest of the world is merely trying to emulate them as much as hoping to defeat them, including the Philippines.
The host country is on the other side of the spectrum as a rookie in 3x3 basketball. The four-man crew of Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Christian Standhardinger, and Stanley Pringle have not only had limited practice time between them, but also lacked experience in the half-court game.
After the championship game on Tuesday night, the Serbians were generous enough to share their assessment on the Philippines.
"I think they are good 5-on-5 players. I think they need to learn much more about this game," 3x3 legend Bulut said about the Philippine squad. "Because as you see, Russia came with the 5-on-5 players, they didn't make out the group. Philippines came with the professional 5-on-5 players, they didn't make [it out of the] group."
The difference in rules, pace, physicality, and overall style of the 3x3 game were all new to the Philippines, who finished with two wins and two losses, including a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of Canada. All four Filipino players would attest that their inexperience got the better of them.
"It's a big difference right now between 3x3 and 5-on-5 players," Bulut added.
Rosario, Pogoy, Standhardinger and Pringle are all high-caliber players in the PBA. But as we've learned in the 3x3 World Cup, merely combining talent and hoping that they will mesh is difficult. Add the inexperience factor, the Philippines still has a long way to go to reach the highest level of 3x3 basketball.
On Serbia's roster for the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup, Stojačić was the only new member. Savić, Bulut, and Majstorovic have already competed in three past editions of the World Cup. Bulut and Savić, in particular, were teammates when they first won gold back in 2012. They are professionals who live and breathe 3x3 basketball.
"They need to work hard, like we do," Majstorovic advised the Philippines and the rest of the playing field. "They need to be in 3x3 if they want to have better results."
Serbia is the unquestioned king of 3x3 basketball and their dominance in international competition speaks of the country's focus and determination to be the benchmark of success.
As the Serbians celebrated inside the Philippine Arena on Tuesday night, their place at the pinnacle of 3x3 competition probably won't change any time soon. As for the Philippines which is still a rookie in the sport, all it takes is time and a lot of work as Serbia suggested.