Usually, a 12-member basketball team has no problem replacing a player when he or she goes down injured in the middle of a game. Granted, the replacement might not perform quite as well as the original injured player, but at least they can step in to fill their literal shoes on the court.
That wasn't the case during the recent FIBA 3-on-3 Youth World Championships, though, an event at which the U.S. girls squad earned a rare honorary bronze medal. Here's how those unique awards ended up in American hands:
In a competition that only allowed teams to bring four players, the United States found itself in a semifinal match against Italy. Heading into the game, the U.S. had one of its four roster players -- Taya Reimer -- out for the remainder of the tournament because of an ankle injury.
Because of that injury, the U.S. team was comprised of just top recruit Kaela Davis, Linnae Harper and Rebecca Greenwell for an entire game. Less than two minutes into the semifinal, that number decreased by one, with Greenwell falling prey to a knee injury.
Suddenly an international 3-on-3 matchup was 3-on-2. And while that should have made for a horrible mismatch, the U.S. duo made a fight of it, forcing the game against host nation Italy into overtime before eventually falling, 21-19.
"It was one of the most amazing games I've ever been a part of," Jamie Carey, USA Basketball Assistant Women's National Team Director and girls team leader, said in a release about the game. "It was unbelievable to watch. This game is hard as it is, and then to play with two people, it was amazing to watch those two girls compete."
Because the U.S. was left with just Davis and Harper for its scheduled bronze medal match against Japan, it was forced to forfeit. Yet, because of the team's refusal to forfeit its semifinal when down to two players, FIBA awarded honorary bronze medals to all four team members.
Davis said that the bronze medal was an honor, though she insisted it wasn't needed to prove what the team had accomplished over the course of the tournament, and in particularly in she and Harper's dogmatic performance in the semifinal.
"I think at this point it doesn't take a medal to show that we did something great, but it is very humbling for FIBA to award us honorary bronze medals," Davis said in a release. "We played our hearts out, and we are all proud of the effort we put forth today. The atmosphere was crazy, and at one point it seemed like every one in the gym was surrounding the court and cheering both teams on. It was pretty amazing."