The road to the Olympics isn't always glamorous. Sometimes it can leave one stranded on a sidewalk in Budapest at 4 a.m.

But for the members of the United States men's 3x3 basketball team — Jimmer Fredette, Canyon Barry, Kareem Maddox and Dylan Travis — it's precisely moments like those that could help fuel them to an Olympic gold medal.

The Paris Games will be the first time the U.S. fields a men's 3x3 team at the Olympics. The sport debuted three years ago at the Tokyo Games, but the U.S. — despite its status as the reigning World Cup champion — missed out after a shocking defeat during the final Olympic qualifying tournament.

Barry and Maddox were part of the quartet attempting to secure qualification for the U.S. that year. After the disappointment set in, they had decisions to make about their future.

"It was a tough position for me because I felt like I didn't have a direct impact on that process," said Barry, who had gotten injured just before that final tournament and was unable to participate. "As an athlete, you start asking those 'what if' questions like, 'If I was healthy, would we have qualified? If I had tried to fight through the injury, would it have been better or worse for the team?' But after that, I still knew I wanted to try to be an Olympian."

As for Maddox, he recalls going back to the hotel room and shedding tears with his teammates after the loss.

"Over the course of that night, I figured out that I was going to give it another shot," he said. "It was disappointing for everyone, including USA Basketball — they trusted us to get the U.S. to the Tokyo Olympics. We felt like we let a lot of people down."

With Barry and Maddox returning for another Olympic cycle, half the puzzle was already in place, but two pieces still remained for USA Basketball to figure out.

Enter Travis, who had been making a name for himself on the 3x3 circuit in recent years, and Fredette, a former college star at Brigham Young University who spent several seasons in the NBA.

Fredette had recently made the decision not to return to China, where he'd been playing professionally, when he received a call from USA Basketball's Fran Fraschilla offering him the chance to join the 3x3 national team with a pathway toward the Paris Olympics.

"When I heard 'Olympics,' I was I was like, 'Yeah, done, let's do it,'" Fredette recalled. "That's something that you dream about as a kid. I never thought I'd have an opportunity to play in the Olympics."

The U.S. national team's revamped roster made its debut in November 2022 at the FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup. The group went undefeated and won a gold medal, but the work was far from done.

Because Fredette had spent his whole career playing 5-on-5 basketball, there was a transitional period as he got acclimated to the nuances of the 3x3 game, and he credits the experience of his three teammates and their willingness to help as key reasons why he was ultimately able to get up to speed.

"I'd say it took us six to eight months to really gel together where all of a sudden, we were clicking on all cylinders and felt like we were an actual unit and knew exactly what every player was going to do on the court," Fredette estimated.

That type of cohesiveness is pivotal in 3x3. Although each team has a coach, the coach isn't allowed on the sidelines during games. That means every important strategic decision — substitutions, timeouts, offensive and defensive tactical adjustments — falls on the shoulders of the players.

Substitutions are the easiest of the decisions. At any given time, there are three players on the court and one player resting on the sidelines. The team tries to use every dead ball situation to its advantage — whoever's the most tired gets to sub out, and whoever's on the sidelines comes back in.

But even when a player is resting on the sidelines, they still have a major role to play. Being able to watch the game unfold from the bench gives that player a unique vantage point, and based on what they see, they're able to devise strategies for the rest of the team.

"It's very similar to a coach because where you're viewing the game from, you have more space, you're not involved in the action, everything kind of slows down when you're not playing," Barry explained. "Throughout the game, all four of us are subbing out constantly, so gaining that perspective from being able to watch, you might see a play that we think could work or a mismatch or a position that we can take advantage of."

Members of the U.S. men's 3x3 team form a huddle during a stoppage in play
Without a coach on the sidelines, it's up to the players to make every strategic decision during 3x3 games.
USA Basketball

As for strategies, that always remains a work in progress. Each game is unique, and that requires the entire team to constantly adapt to the situation and make adjustments.

"We know what we do well on the court and how we play now, but at the same time, every game is completely different and every strategy that the teams are playing against us is completely different," Fredette said. "So in 3x3, you have to be malleable, you have to be able to do everything. You have to be able to score, you have to be able to pass, you've got to be able to play defense in every situation. It's going to be different in every game."

And that's why team bonding is so important. It's because of experiences like the one they shared in Budapest that the players are able to work so well together during gametime.

So, what exactly happened on that trip?

On the way to a 3x3 tournament in Debrecen, Hungary, the team decided to make an overnight stop in Budapest. Upon reaching their Airbnb around 4 a.m., the three members present — Fredette, Barry and Travis — discovered that no one had the code to enter the property, and their manager back in the U.S. who had that information was already asleep.

So for the next five hours, the three of them sat outside the Airbnb with all their luggage — about "18 suitcases" full of gear, estimates Barry — and waited for the code. And once they got inside, they discovered that the power was out.

At this point, the team had been on the road for about 30 hours and was desperate to get some sleep, so they frantically went around the city — with all their luggage in tow — searching for a hotel.

As it so happened, that day was a national holiday, so every hotel was full. They went to six different places before they finally found somewhere that could accommodate the three of them.

"They only had one room with three beds," Barry recalled. "It's like a standard hotel room with just single prison style-mattresses maybe six inches apart and all of us are just jammed in there having a little slumber party.

"It's funny looking back at it, it makes you so much closer as a team. We've gone through so much in terms of crazy travel and seeing beautiful cities together."

Of course, the guys have plenty of positive memories from their travels as well — Travis likes to get them out on scooters to explore the cities they visit — and every new experience, whether good or bad, brings them closer together like a family, and that in turn improves their relationship on the court.

"There's a lot of honest conversations that have to be had during the season like, hey, we need to do this better, or this is what we're doing well, let's keep doing this," Fredette said. "If you don't have a good relationship with the guys and understand that everything you're saying is coming from a place of love, then it can get really difficult really quickly and then you can see that on the court.

"So the off-the-court stuff is just as important so that we can actually communicate with each other properly when we're playing."

The quartet, known as Team Miami on the FIBA circuit, has indeed been finding success on the court. After representing the U.S. at the 2023 World Cup and earning a silver medal — they lost to Serbia in a hard-fought final — the players were riding high.

But at their very next tournament, they went 0-2 in pool play and didn't make it past the first day of competition.

"We kind of hit the panic button, like maybe we're not as good as we thought we were. The stuff that we were doing, maybe it was fool's gold," Travis recalled. "But to our credit and our coach's credit, we stuck with it and just slowly started building throughout the tour."

Later that year, the group struck gold at the 2023 Pan American Games, and their success on the FIBA World Tour circuit helped propel the U.S. to No. 2 in the FIBA world rankings (behind Serbia), good enough to automatically qualify the U.S. for the Paris Olympics. That means no qualification tournaments to worry about this time.

Canyon Barry, Kareem Maddox, Jimmer Fredette and Dylan Travis hold American flag
Canyon Barry, Kareem Maddox, Jimmer Fredette and Dylan Travis celebrate after winning a gold medal at the 2023 Pan American Games.
USA Basketball

In March, the four members of Team Miami were officially named to the U.S. Olympic team roster.

"It feels good," Maddox said. "It was a three-year journey of redemption and validation to get the U.S. into the Olympics in Paris."

Throughout that journey, the players have had more to focus on than just basketball, as most of them continue to hold day jobs.

Fredette works for a venture capital firm in Utah, a job which enables him to set his own hours.

Maddox, who once worked as a producer and host for NPR, is now a part-time member of the Minnesota Timberwolves front office. ("I call myself 'manager of special projects' because it doesn't mean anything," he jokes about his jack-of-all-trades role with the organization.)

Barry is an engineer at L3Harris in Florida and has the company's support in creating a flexible schedule that lets him balance his work with his Olympic ambitions. ("I've been doing Zoom calls from Mongolia at 2 a.m. to present on stuff because of the crazy time change," he says.)

Only one member is currently without a day job. Travis was previously a special education teacher and basketball coach at a high school in Omaha, Nebraska, but decided to pause his career due to the travel commitments required for 3x3.

The next job for this foursome: win Olympic gold for Team USA.

Team Miami (with Bryce Wills filling in for Maddox) recently defeated the Serbian team ranked No. 1 in the world, which will only raise the lofty expectations for the Americans in Paris. But the whole group embraces the challenge ahead of them.

"Anytime you're under the USA Basketball umbrella, everyone expects gold," Fredette said. "That's just the way it is. We completely understand that, we know the expectation, we know the responsibility that we hold ... but we're excited for that responsibility."

"It's an honor to be able to play and we expect as much from ourselves as people do on the outside, so we expect to do really well. But that's just the way it is — if you have 'USA' on your chest, they expect you to win."