October 7, 2023
Whether they’re playing 3-on-3 or 5-on-5, Katherine and Michelle Plouffe are nearly impossible to stop
Let’s find out how Katherine, Michelle and older sister Andrea’s careers stack up
She wasn’t talking about a crucial Pac-12 game or a big non-conference matchup with No. 15 Nebraska in mid-November. Instead, she was looking toward a game against Marquette — and her twin sister Katherine — in the Southpoint Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 30.
The Plouffes had never played an organized game against each other, teaming up through high school before splitting up for college. Michelle joked that their college coaches weren’t going to let them guard each other, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
As it turned out, no one could guard the Plouffes in that game. Katherine scored a game-high 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting and added nine rebounds. Michelle had a team-high 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, hitting three of her seven 3-point attempts. And despite Michelle’s line in the sand to her teammates, Katherine and Marquette got the win, 72-65.
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Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, as the youngest of five children, the twins followed their siblings into basketball. They were often in the gym for their siblings’ practices, and when their brother Daniel, who was one year older than them, started playing, the twins badgered their parents to let them start, too. As eight-year-olds, they joined the Woodvale Mini-Raptors, getting green jerseys with Nos. 9 (Katherine) and 15 (Michelle).
The twins also tried volleyball and soccer and considered making volleyball their primary sport. But they always showed potential in basketball, their mom Laurie told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They were athletic, they had good fundamentals and they were leaders from a pretty young age,” she said. As fourth graders, just a few years after becoming Mini-Raptors, they made the junior varsity team at their school, which went up to ninth grade.
In high school at Harry Ainlay, the 6’3 forwards dominated, going undefeated twice in three seasons. Their individual successes built on one another, Michelle told Edify, an Edmonton publication: “Seeing each other doing well gives us confidence in our own abilities.”
They were also inspired by their sister Andrea, who is six years older than them and played collegiately at Washington. “We wouldn’t have known what we could do if we didn’t see her,” Michelle told the Edmonton Journal in 2015.
“[Andrea] has been my greatest role model and mentor in my life,” Katherine added in 2017. “At a young age, I looked up to her and wanted to go where she went. She exemplified a great basketball career for me and the opportunities that were possible.”
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Despite their success together in high school, Katherine and Michelle decided to part ways for college. They wanted to develop their own identities and get away from the inevitable comparisons that came when they were together. Katherine also said she wanted to be more of a leader, out of Michelle’s shadow.
“We just needed space after like 18 years together,” Katherine told the Huron Daily Tribune in 2016. “… It helped our relationship like tenfold because we got to develop individually and have our own friends and come back and play together in the summer.”
It also helped them on the court, Katherine said, getting different coaching and developing their games differently. She chose Marquette; Michelle opted for Utah, where she ended up playing with three other elite Canadians and moving from power forward to small forward. Both programs changed conferences during the Plouffes’ careers, so they combined to play in four NCAA conferences, each with their own style of play.
Still, though, the pull of twindom was strong. “I got called Michelle in my own university,” Katherine told Olympics.com in August. “And I’m like, ‘She’s not even here!’ But I would talk about her all the time.”
We’re going to talk about the twins, too, and about Andrea, a 6’2 forward/center. Andrea paved the way, but which Plouffe had the best collegiate career?
Let’s compare their stats to find out. The data below are from Her Hoop Stats and the teams’ websites, and the best performance in each category is shaded in gray.
Michelle comes out on top in nine of the 17 categories listed, including minutes, points and rebounds per game as well as career double-doubles. But the scoring race is closer than it might appear. Michelle’s scoring advantage is largely because she made 153 career 3-pointers, whereas her sisters combined for 48. Looking at just 2-pointers, Katherine hit 582 and Michelle hit 584. The twins were also eerily similar from the free-throw line: Katherine shot 73.72%, while Michelle shot 73.70%.
Meanwhile, Katherine takes top honors in six categories, including assists per game and effective field goal percentage. She also had the best team record over her four years, winning nearly 60% of her games. Notably, though, all three sisters had records above .500 as college players, and they all made the NCAA Tournament at least once, with Katherine and Andrea each winning a game.
All three sisters also got looks in the Canadian national team pipeline. Andrea played for the junior development team in high school and tried out for the national team in college. Michelle debuted with the national team at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in 2009, and Katherine followed at the FIBA Under-18 Americas Championship in 2010.
In 2012, at just 19 years old, Michelle made the Canadian team for the Olympics — and Katherine didn’t. Receiving that news was tough, Katherine said. But she still traveled to London to surprise Michelle, and they were both emotional when they saw each other at Canada’s first game.
“I remember the first step she stepped on the court … I started crying,” Katherine said in August. “Mostly because I wanted [her] to get [her] shot out there.”
Michelle appeared in two games, recording two points and a rebound as Canada finished eighth.
Two years later, the twins got to play together at the 2014 FIBA World Championship, where Canada’s fifth-place finish was its best since 1986. Katherine averaged 7.4 points per game, while Michelle averaged 5.4. It had been a while since they’d been teammates, and Katherine quipped that there was still “twin telepathy,” but “now it’s a bit of a weak signal.”
Katherine and Michelle then helped Canada win the 2015 Pan American Games and the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship. The latter victory came in their hometown of Edmonton — and qualified Canada for the 2016 Olympics.
Both sisters were selected for the 2016 Olympic team, and they would stand side-by-side for the national anthem wearing Nos. 14 and 15. “You can’t wipe the smiles off our faces right now,” Laurie told Postmedia before the tournament began.
With Katherine playing center and Michelle at small and power forward, Canada finished seventh.
“It definitely is amazing to be able to play on this team with my best friend,” Michelle told Postmedia. “Our biggest support system is each other so it’s been really cool the last few summers. It’s really special and we don’t take it for granted.”
For several years as professionals, the twins played together for Canada during the summer but separately overseas in the winter. Michelle was selected by the Seattle Storm in the second round of the 2014 WNBA Draft, but she was waived in preseason. She went on to play in France and Greece, while Katherine played on other French teams and in Romania.
In May 2019, Katherine and Michelle retired from the 5-on-5 national team to pursue 3-on-3. They had nearly 200 national-team appearances between them, 149 of which came at the senior level. But they were ready for a new challenge, and Michelle’s former Utah teammate Paige Crozon had called her and pitched the idea of trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, which would feature 3-on-3 for the first time.
The trio built up their reputations in the new discipline from scratch, paying their own way for tournaments in summer 2019 and initially competing without a fourth teammate. They also had to adjust to the different rules and fast pace of 3-on-3.
Yet they started winning almost immediately, in part because of the mismatches the Plouffes create on the court. “I’m big, but I’m very mobile. I can do everything,” Michelle told the Edmonton Sun in 2022. “And that’s a huge advantage three-on-three because there is generally not more than one big girl on the court and we have both Katherine and myself.”
The Canadians’ strong performances in 2019 put them in good position to qualify for the 2020 Olympics — if not for a FIBA rule that, in most cases, only allowed countries to send one team across genders to the 3-on-3 Olympic qualifying tournament. (That rule has since been eliminated.) Canada Basketball opted to send the men’s team. Michelle called the news “hard to process” in a November 2019 tweet.
However, since that disappointment, the Canadian women have been dominant in 3-on-3. They took silver in the 2022 World Cup despite being seeded No. 13 out of 20 teams, won the 2022 AmeriCup, won the 2022 and 2023 FIBA Women’s Series, and are now ranked No. 1 in the world as a team.
Michelle won MVP of both Women’s Series finals and is the top-ranked player in the world. Katherine is right behind her at No. 2. In the 2023 Women’s Series, Michelle averaged 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, which may not sound dominant until you consider that 3-on-3 games are played to 21 points over a maximum of 10 minutes. Katherine averaged 6.2 points and 7.1 rebounds and had 27 double-fives — similar to double-doubles in 5-on-5 — in 38 games.
“We play significantly better with each other than anyone else,” Michelle said in September, “just because we know each other so well and we complement each other so well in our game.”
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Since Crozon and the Plouffes got Canada going in 3-on-3, Canada has invested in it and added U-18 and U-23 teams. More Canadian provinces are hosting tournaments, and the Plouffes’ team hired a coach, three-time Olympian and former Utah legend Kim (Smith) Gaucher.
“From the beginning, we’ve not only had to do well for our team, but also to create a 3×3 program that outlasts us,” Katherine said in a Canadian Olympic Committee article.
For now, though, Plouffe and her teammates aren’t going anywhere. They are intent on qualifying for the 2024 Olympics, a process that will stretch into the first half of next year. The Plouffes have been here before in 5-on-5, but this time feels different.
“It just feels different with this team than with the 5-on-5 team because the group is so small … and we’ve put so much into it,” Michelle said. “… It would be awesome to see the fruit of that at the Olympics in Paris with a medal or whatever that looks like. It would just be the cherry on top.”
“That’s why we started,” Katherine said in a separate interview. “That’s why we’re still here.”
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.