Kareem Maddox ’11 has not changed, but the game he’s playing has.
Maddox is still the inside-outside offensive threat and agile defender who starred for the Princeton men’s basketball team, but now he plays 3-on-3, half-court games to 21 points (or 10 minutes, whichever comes first) with a 12-second shot clock.
“There’s no time for thinking,” he said. “You have 12 seconds to score, so there’s not much room for indecision. You have to do something and do something fast. That’s what’s great about the game.”
Maddox is vying to represent the United States when 3x3 basketball, as the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) calls it, debuts at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. He’s well on his way: He helped the U.S. team win gold for the first time at the World Cup in the Netherlands June 23 and then topped the podium again at the Pan American Games in Peru July 29.
“To win [the World Cup] the year before the Olympics is massive,” Maddox said. “It’s important to show we can have that success. It was also important because we have to finish in the top 3 in that World Cup to get a bid into the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. There’s still a chance that the USA can qualify automatically to the Olympics.”
After graduation, Maddox’s basketball odyssey took him to the Netherlands and United Kingdom for two years, but he detoured into journalism in his hometown, Los Angeles, and then at an NPR affiliate in Colorado. He returned to play one year in Poland’s pro league while delving into the 3x3 game that now fuels his Olympic dream.
“I feel like I learned how to play basketball at Princeton the right way, and it also instilled a love for the game in me,” Maddox said. “It’s not going to be easy to get rid of. I appreciate every moment of this journey.”
Maddox, who produces an entrepreneurship podcast called The Pitch out of New York, plays 3x3 at three levels. Nationally, he plays with Team Ariel Slow & Steady, backed by Princeton basketball alum John Rogers ’80, the co-CEO of Ariel Investments. Dan Mavraides ’11 and Maddox also play internationally on Team Princeton on the World Tour to gain Olympic qualifying points for the U.S.
“Almost everyone on our team comes from the greater Coach Carril tree, having played for a coach who was a former Princeton coach or was mentored by Pete Carril,” Maddox said. “We play the system. It’s natural for us. We all know the Princeton system. It just so happens that the Princeton system is pretty applicable to 3x3. We do a lot of passing, cutting, and shooting from behind the arc. It’s 2s and 1s in 3x3 so the 2-point shot, which would be the 3-point shot in 5x5, is more valuable in 3x3 because it’s worth twice as much as a normal shot.”
Maddox’s play nationally and internationally earned him one of four spots on the USA Basketball team that won the World Cup and the Pan Am Games. His success there has him on a path toward living out his childhood Olympic dream.
“Being able to walk with Team USA into the opening ceremony and to compete with ‘USA’ across your chest, there aren’t many honors like that in the sports world,” Maddox said. “When you think of Team USA basketball, you think of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul — you don’t think of Kareem Maddox. Even though the opportunity is there, it’s an incredible one.”
A version of this story appears in the Sept. 11, 2019, issue.