Anneli Maley(left) and Marena Whittle (right), are leading Australia into the nation's first 3x3 Olympic Tournament. | Morgan Hancock/Getty Images

Australia has built a solid tradition in international basketball. At the upcoming Paris Olympics, the Aussie tradition laid down by the Boomers and Opals on the 5-on-5 game extends to the growing 3×3 basketball version.

Leading the women’s effort is team captain Anneli Maley, a slashing big guard with range, and Marena Whittle who lends a EuroCup-tested veteran presence. They mesh as a unit alongside fellow Gangurrus teammates Alex Wilson and Lauren Mansfield, winning an Olympic qualifying berth and a dominant performance at a FIBA 3×3 Women’s Series stop last week.

Maley and Whittle are also a team outside of the game. They’ve been partners for five years, are engaged to marry, hoping to set a wedding date amid basketball commitments after the Paris Olympics. Each says being out, together and in competition sends a crucial message.

“It’s about getting to create something that is normal and to have visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community,” Maley told the Brisbane-based Courier and Mail last week. “It’s obviously about basketball, but how cool is it that we get to be that example for the younger girls and boys who get to see that representation on an Olympic stage. Some young ones may be afraid to stay something so hopefully seeing us at the Olympics can put them at ease and help in some way.”

Maley and Whittle teamed up to stop Canada at last month’s Olympic qualifying and earn their berth to Paris (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

“Growing up, in the Opals or even in WNBL teams, I never really heard of couples, like visible couples,” Whittle stated to The Guardian. “There were no role models to say that it could work and was healthy and was supportive.”

Both come from roots in regulation basketball at several levels. Maley, now 25, played college ball in the U.S. at Oregon and TCU, has been a mainstay in WNBL, had a cup of coffee with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky in 2022 and was a part of an Opals squad that finished 3rd at the FIBA World Cup that year. Whittle, once an All-Summit League performer at North Dakota State, has shuttled between Australia and Spain is weighing offers as a free agent at age 30.

At points in their careers, and their lives together, they’ve clashed on the court. “It’s fun to play against you because we push each other to get better as basketball players,” Maley stated to Whittle on Maley’s Under The Surface Podcast last year. “Also, she talks smack when she plays.”

They see the fast-paced 3×3 game as a unique and fun challenge, and feel they head to Paris with strong momentum.

After success in the struggle to reach The Games, both see going to Paris together as sweet (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

After losing their opening game at last month’s Olympic qualifier in Japan, they raced to four straight wins to secure a place in the eight-team Olympic tournament, with Maley earning MVP honors and a winning smooch from Whittle as the game ended.

Last week, the Gangurrus downed Tokyo bronze medalist China to win the FIBA Women’s Series event in Chengdu, China and Whittle was MVP.

“We have the chemistry that you need to play well together and overcome anything that happens in the 10 minutes,” Whittle said to Courier and Mail. “3×3 is a sprint and a lot of the teams we’ll play against in Paris have been to the Olympics before. We are coming up against powerhouses, but we’re very confident.”

They also looking forward to Paris in summertime together, even if part of the trip involves business.

“I get to go to the Olympics with my person,” Maley said. “To go to the Olympics with my life partner is pretty cool. It’s something that we’ll get to talk about at the wedding and for years to come when we are grey and old.”

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