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Team USA Basketball Player Kareem Maddox Drives Toward Tokyo

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Time to check in once more with an athlete who'd been hoping to be at the Tokyo Olympics right about now. We've been seeking out aspiring members of Team USA to learn what it's like to push off such a big competition by a year. Today, we hear from a player in the new Olympic discipline of three-on-three basketball.

KAREEM MADDOX: My name is Kareem Maddox, and I'm a 3x3 basketball player. And I would have been playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualification tournament. And the goal is to make it to the Olympics. We still have to go to that tournament, finish in the top three as USA, and then we will be qualified for Tokyo. So when the Olympics got postponed, I wouldn't say I was devastated, but it definitely threw a wrench into my plans. I actually quit my job on January 31, so that I could train full-time for the Olympics. And when it got postponed, I realized that at some point I was going to have to make some decisions about how I was going to sustain for the next year.

So there was never a doubt that I would still be going for it because, you know, it's a lifelong dream. But, you know, it will take some creativity to figure out what I'm going to do for the next year. But I've seen it as an opportunity to become the best basketball player that I can possibly be. And, you know, one way to look at it is I have a whole extra year to do that because, you know, this is the first time 3x3 is in the Olympics. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that it is an enjoyable experience for the spectators and that, you know, I can leave my mark. And my teammates feel the same way about that.

FOLKENFLIK: And what's coursing through Maddox's headphones while he keeps driving toward Tokyo 2021? It's the soundtrack to the hit Broadway musical "Hamilton," which he watched for the first time during quarantine.

MADDOX: The song has been on repeat for me is "Right Hand Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

CHRISTOPHER JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) Embellishing my elegance and eloquence, but the elephant is in the room. The truth is in your face when you hear the British cannons go boom.

MADDOX: It's just such a work of genius. And it's something that is, like, so powerful and so smart and poignant now because I think a lot of people are looking for ways to believe in the promise of America. Yeah. I mean, you know, pick any song off of it, and I will sing a duet with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) And boom goes the cannon. We're abandoning Kips Bay. And boom...

FOLKENFLIK: That's Kareem Maddox, a three-on-three basketball player hoping to compete for Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT HAND MAN")

JACKSON: (As George Washington, rapping) Guns and horses giddy-up. I decide to divvy up my forces. They're skittish as the British cut the city up. This close to giving up, facing mad scrutiny. I scream in the face of this mass mutiny. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.