The draw of 3x3 basketball is right there in the name — three players on the court per side, a departure from the sport's typical 5-on-5 format.
But when Canada's women won silver at the World Cup last month, they did so with a much smaller team than their opponent.
Katherine Plouffe, one of Canada's players, said France's gold-medal squad had "about eight" staffers "including physios, medical people, analysts and coaches and stuff like that."
Conversely, Canada's entourage consisted of four players, one physiotherapist and Ron Yeung, Canada Basketball's director of domestic and 3x3 basketball. Additionally, two performance analysts were working from home.
"So bringing home second at a World Cup, I hope it shows Sport Canada [and] Own The Podium that Canadian women have huge potential to medal at the Olympics," Plouffe said.
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Neither the men's nor women's teams played in Tokyo, the latter due to a qualifying quirk that allowed just one gender from most countries to compete for an Olympic spot and the former having not made it through that process.
But with qualifying rules since loosened, both Canadian teams could reasonably reach Paris 2024.
They say increased support from Canada Basketball would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
"That would be ideal to have not just the team running the show, but to have a coach, more staff members and people that can help us reach the top level," Plouffe said.
'Just the beginning'
Plouffe and her sister Michelle, also a two-time Olympian, made the switch to 3x3 full-time in 2019. The Edmonton natives were joined by Kacie Bosch of Lethbridge, Alta., and Paige Crozon of Humboldt, Sask., at the World Cup.
Canada Basketball did send the group to a tuneup tournament ahead of the World Cup. Canada is also playing host to three stops on the 3x3 World Series — the first of which begins on Friday in Edmonton — which are produced by local organizations but supported by the national federation.
"Step by step, hopefully we're growing and bringing more attention so that we can get more resources. But yeah, it's just the beginning. It's like a baby sport in Canada, so we're just trying to grow it from the ground up here," said Michelle Plouffe.
Yeung said that for international events such as the World Cup, Canada Basketball covers travel, accommodation and meal costs while also taking on the administrative burden.
He said Canada Basketball is working on adding a coach for the women's team — a role that's less urgent than 5 on 5 since coaches aren't allowed on the court during 3x3, instead sitting in the stands and helping in between contests.
"It's a bit tricky because [the Plouffes, Bosch and Crozon have] been together playing this game for so long. Whoever we bring in would be somebody that would really have to understand the system, know the system, and be ablet to kind of jump in there," Yeung said.
Call for more 3x3 across country
Paul Sir served as managing director of 3x3 for Canada Basketball between April 2020 and May 2022. As director of the Alberta Basketball Association for nearly 50 years, he led the charge in growing 3x3 in the country when FIBA introduced the international tour in 2010.
Sir, whose son Steve Sir played for the men's team during 2020 Olympic qualifying, said Alberta Basketball paid out of pocket to fund the national 3x3 teams in FIBA events until 2019.
But given the sport's rise, Sir said that should be changing.
"I want to say this respectfully, but I want to say it, I guess, bluntly: Canada Basketball has to take 3x3 much more seriously than they presently have."
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Sir said the federation's inclusion of the 3x3 nationals in the recently completed Globl Jam in Toronto, which also featured international U23 tournaments and a senior women's training camp, was "the tip of the iceberg."
Every previous iteration of the 3x3 national was funded by Alberta Basketball, he said.
"We need more support for the women. We need more people. We need more teams playing consistently across the country in order for Canada to become part of the bloodstream of 3x3 internationally, because a lot of other countries are putting a lot of resources into 3x3," Sir said.
Upcoming tournament in Edmonton
Sir said countries from Mongolia (for whom Steve is currently a player-coach) to the U.S. and across Europe are "pouring tons of resources" into the game, fuelling its acceleration and leaving Canada behind.
He credited the likes of Steve, Kyle Landry and more for growing the sport over the past decade-plus in Canada, saying they travelled to 17 tournaments in 2019 without financial help to put Canada in position to qualify for the Olympics.
"They're a beacon. But my God, unless you build a foundation around them, they're just literally the lighthouse looking over the sea. But we need ships in the sea filling it up. And that's what has to happen across the country," he said.
The Canadian women will return to the court in Edmonton looking to build on their silver-medal run.
"It would be better to be world No. 1, but super duper incredible looking in hindsight, just the journey that we've had and what we accomplished," said Katherine Plouffe.
They'll then travel to tournaments in France and Romania before returning to Canada for events in Quebec City and Montreal. If they rack up enough wins and points, they'll be among eight teams to qualify for the World Tour Final back in Romania in September.
There are 11 events in total before the Final, but the Canadians won't be involved in all of them. It all builds toward Olympic qualification — if Canada's men's and women's teams are good enough, they'll both be allowed a shot at qualifying.
Yeung said that since about 30 countries are entered in the World Series but only eight or 12 compete in a given tournament, most teams, like Canada, are only entered in around five events.
For now, the women's circle remains tight. But Michelle Plouffe is happy her sister is there with her.
"We make up half the team. We spend all our time together and it's just been a roller-coaster ride. … We've had to wear many different hats and play many different roles.
"But to watch her step up and to just partner together and achieving some of the things we have that mostly goes unnoticed, but small wins, has been just truly a blessing."