If Katherine and Michelle Plouffe qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, they will have done so on their own dime.
But the Edmonton twins say it will have been worth every penny.
The 26-year-olds are attempting to become two members of Canada’s first-ever Olympic team in 3-on-3 basketball when the discipline makes its Games debut next summer in Tokyo. And with no financial support from either Canada Basketball or Sport Canada, it means footing the bill for numerous tournaments abroad to accumulate valuable qualifying points.
“It honestly feels like it would be more rewarding than the previous Olympics that I’ve been to,” Michelle said.
“It’s quite a big venture to take on, but we were like, No, we’ve got to do it in order to get to the Olympics,” Katherine added.
The Plouffes teamed up with Paige Crozon and Mariah Nunes to win last weekend’s FIBA 3x3 Women’s Series stop in Prague, their first victory in four events. They finished second, third and fourth in their previous tournaments.
Katherine estimated last week’s trip to Prague set them back about $12,000. After some last-minute travel plans, they’re headed to Bucharest to play another event this weekend. FIBA charged both an entry fee for the entire series, plus separate entry fees for each event. But the world governing body for basketball, the Plouffes said, has been good about them putting off payment.
“FIBA has been generous behind the scenes because they want to see the game grow, they want to see more countries competing,” Katherine said. “We’re hoping to get working with some sponsors who could help. But we were all-in [from Day 1], and we knew we would have to figure it out on the back end. We’re still figuring it out.”
The goal is to accumulate enough points through these events to earn a top-20 ranking that should get them invited to an Olympic qualifying event.
The Plouffes both played for Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics and on Canada’s team that won gold at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Their retirement from the senior women’s program in May caught some by surprise. But they had big plans.
“[Playing 3-on-3] was something we had talked about potentially pursuing,” Katherine said after a recent workout in Edmonton. “It was not an easy decision … but it was such a great opportunity to launch into this new discipline of basketball, especially the year prior to the Olympics, that’s kind of when we had to make the decision to go for it or wait a whole other [four years].”
The convoluted FIBA-Olympics qualifying system is based on accumulated points by a particular country’s best players. Canada is at a disadvantage against other countries where the 3-on-3 game is significantly more popular.
3-on-3, which brings a street vibe to basketball with games outdoors and music continuously blaring, is played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock. The Plouffes are actually on a roster of six – Brey Johnson and Catherine Traer are the other two. Four players travel to each tournament.
Both sisters said the chance to significantly impact games was a big draw.
“Because there’s only four people, you’re just a huge part of the team, you’re significantly contributing when you’re playing, so I would have more ownership of how well we did,” Michelle said.
“It’s a game where you really get a chance to play a lot, versus a full 12-team roster. That was something that we had to go through, was not playing a lot with the national team,” Katherine said. “Everyone has their roles, but at the same time you want to go on the court and prove what you can do to help your country win.
“So that’s one thing that makes it a lot more fun.”
While Katherine played college basketball for Marquette and Michelle for Utah, there’s nobody on the planet who knows each other’s games better. There are sisters playing for a Dutch team, but no other twins on the circuit that they know of. Their chemistry on the court can’t be beat.
“It’s really fun,” Michelle said. "Because you’re always touching the ball and you’re always playing, it’s really cool to be able to see [Katherine’s] whole game. In 5-on-5, you don’t touch the ball as much and you don’t show all the skillset that you have at all times … so it’s been really fun just to be able to play that way and see how good she is. She’s really good.”
If the Plouffes achieve their dream of teaming up in Tokyo, they say getting there on their own steam will make it that much sweeter. They’re also proud to help develop the game at home.
“[3-on-3] is a great way to build basketball in general in Canada, and that’s something for us, too. We’re involved in the community and we want to see girl’s and women’s basketball grow, so it’s a really cool opportunity just to envelop all of those things,” Katherine said.
“And we could be trailblazers for the sport. Because Canada Basketball has not stepped up to the plate on this, we can prove that it’s something worth building … we’re kind of at a point where it’s like, okay, we’re going to prove to you we can do it without your help.”