Playoffs for HoopQueens, Canadian semi-pro women's basketball league, start Sunday

The WNBA is coming to Toronto in 2026, but professional women's basketball has been in Canada for years.

HoopQueens, a semi-pro league with players from across Canada, will hold the semifinals of its third season this Sunday at Toronto's Humber College. HoopQueens founder Nakissa Koomalsingh said the four-team league has seen amazing growth since its inception.

"We're just building on the momentum. More fans are coming, the competition's getting better every year," said Koomalsingh. "This season's really been a testament to our growth and our scale. This season we have a Montreal team and there have been a lot of things that we've learned.

"I'm just happy to have a space for the Montreal talent to come in every weekend and then showcase their talent."

The league plays every Sunday in June with back-to-back games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. This Sunday the first-place Advantage Titans will play the fourth-place Sun Youth before the second-place Brampton Warriors faces the third-place Triple Threat. The semifinal winners will meet in the final on June 30.

Each team has 10 players, with eight of them paid postgraduate players.

"Our original goal was to just provide more opportunities, provide a platform for players to get seen and to get an opportunity to continue their basketball career," said Koomalsingh. "The pathway after university is to get an agent and you go overseas or you try for the WNBA by entering your name in the draft.

"I don't know the percentage is, but the percentage that make the WNBA is pretty low. There has to be some type of platform or some type of league for us to keep our Canadian talent on Canadian soil."

The WNBA announced on May 23 that it was awarding a franchise to Larry Tanenbaum's Kilmer Sports Ventures. The as-yet-unnamed team will begin play in the 2026 season, playing most of its home games at Toronto's Coca-Cola Coliseum but with some dates in Vancouver and Montreal.

Tanenbaum is the chairman and CEO of Kilmer Group and the chairman of the board for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NBA's Raptors and the NHL's Maple Leafs and other sports properties in Toronto. Kilmer Group also has a 25 per cent ownership stake in MLSE.

Kilmer Sports Ventures paid US$115 million for the WNBA team. Tanenbaum was also responsible for bringing the NBA to Toronto, with the Raptors joining the league 30 years ago.

Koomalsingh believes there's enough room in Canada's sports landscape for both organizations.

"HoopQueens and the WNBA can coexist because we're both creating opportunities for women, whether it's a pro level, semi-pro level or creating jobs within both organizations," she said. "It's going to be a really great thing for women's sport, women's basketball."

Whatever helps Canadian players grow on the court and showcase their talent.

"It's super important for us to prioritize Canadian athletes who are graduating and trying to get to the next stage of their career," said Koomalsingh. "Whether they're staying home or they're trying to get a contract overseas, we're just trying to give them that opportunity."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press