Canada's Olympic pursuit in women's 3x3 basketball gets boost with hiring of coach Kim Gaucher
Reigning Women's Series champions begin season with World Cup next week
Canada's 3x3 women's basketball team was nearly perfect last season.
They ran through the entire regular season without losing a tournament in which their top four players — Katherine and Michelle Plouffe, Paige Crozon and Kacie Bosch — were in attendance, culminating in a championship.
But the year began with the slightest of disappointment, as the team earned silver at their first-ever World Cup. Players later noted how much larger champion France's travelling party was compared to two staffers on the road with Team Canada. Pressingly, Canada did not have a head coach.
On Monday, Canada Basketball announced a move it hopes kills two birds with one stone: long-time national team player and three-time Olympian Kim Gaucher was hired as head coach.
Gaucher told CBC Sports she hopes to help add that extra "0.1 per cent" to take the team over the top, beginning with the World Cup in Austria, which starts next Tuesday with live coverage available across CBC Sports platforms.
"They've stated it. We want it. We plan to leave Vienna with the gold medal. And then obviously, that sets you up for Olympic qualifiers. This team wants to be in Paris with the medal around their necks in 2024," she said.
WATCH | Canada falls to France in 2022 World Cup final:
Olympics on their mind
Despite the 2022 success, Canada moved no closer to clinching its first-ever Olympic berth in the sport, which debuted at Tokyo 2020 with a rule limiting most countries to either a men's or women's team. In Canada, the women's team didn't even get to play in a qualifying tournament.
Gaucher said a spot in Paris in 2024 would help grow the discipline.
The simplest way to reach the Olympics would be for Canada to finish the season in the top three of FIBA's rankings — however, a complicated points allotment system makes that unlikely, even with another near-perfect season.
Otherwise, there are three Olympic qualifying tournaments with five additional spots available. Eight teams per gender will compete in Paris.
Michelle Plouffe said the team's exclusion from Tokyo 2020 qualifying was "shocking," but said its knowledge of the ranking system now means they better understand how to ensure their spot at the table.
"This is something that we've been working towards since 2019 and it would be a great end to a career. And not saying like on here that that's going to be the end, but it's also towards the end and whatnot," Plouffe, 30, told CBC Sports.
"Definitely something that we've been working towards and would be the icing on the cake."
CANADA WINS THE <a href="https://twitter.com/FIBA3x3?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FIBA3x3</a> WOMEN’S SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP! 🇨🇦🏆<br><br>(🎥: <a href="https://twitter.com/FIBA3x3?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FIBA3x3</a>)<a href="https://t.co/OpeKL98Ptt">pic.twitter.com/OpeKL98Ptt</a>—@CBCOlympics
'They want to be great'
The Plouffe sisters, each of whom has played on traditional Olympic basketball teams, and Crozon switched to 3x3 full-time four years ago.
They were self-funded at first before slowly attracting Canada Basketball to their side. Gaucher, the 39-year-old from Mission, B.C., said she "thought deeply" about joining the team in that initial venture until injuries struck.
Instead, she competed at Tokyo in five-on-five format shortly after giving birth to daughter Sophie.
Gaucher said she was approached by Canada Basketball 3x3 director Ron Yeung about becoming head coach in March, and while it interested her, she knew she had to check with the Plouffes first.
"I wanted to be like, 'Are you OK if I join you guys?' And they were really receptive. They want to be great. There's a reason they're already the best. They want to keep getting better. So it's been pretty cool," Gaucher said.
Plouffe, of Edmonton, played professionally with Gaucher in Europe as well as on the national team. She said Gaucher was a good fit as head coach.
"We're all just trying to get better and learn together," Plouffe said. "And it's not so much of a head coach position where they need to dictate a lot. … I'm just happy that we found someone that can fit into that and is comfortable with that role."
Aiming to improve around the edges
Coaches in 3x3 sit in the stands during games, acting more like tennis coaches than traditional basketball bench bosses.
As part of her job, Gaucher will travel to most tournaments, including the World Cup. She'll provide instant analysis virtually when she's not on the road. To date, she's led training camps in Toronto and Edmonton. Her first in-game experience will come in a warmup tournament beginning Friday.
Otherwise, Gaucher's aim is to fine-tune a team that's already humming along quite steadily while taking some managerial and practice duties off the players' plates.
"A lot of times an outside perspective sees different things," Gaucher said. "And so they're not going to be changing anything. I mean, they're the best team in the world, but hey, can we improve this a tiny bit? And what does that look like?"