Basketball stars Michelle and Katherine Plouffe are teammates and competitors in equal measure
They say what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas. But when Michelle and Katherine Plouffe squared off at a basketball tournament in November 2013, they weren’t playing around. Although the identical twins from Edmonton had been playing for different U.S. collegiate teams for four years – Michelle for the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and Katherine for Marquette University in Milwaukee – their teams hadn’t competed. Now, at the tail end of their college basketball careers, they were in the same game, each player watching her mirror reflection jostling for the ball across the court. Never before had they formally competed against each other.
Both sisters, along with their families and friends, eagerly anticipated the game. Even their former high-school coaches showed up to watch. There were nerves, of course, “but it was fun,” says Katherine. Although their playing styles had changed since they last played together – on the girls’ basketball team at Harry Ainlay High School – they could still anticipate each other’s moves on the court, Katherine says: “It was kind of like, ‘I know what you’re going to do.'” In the end, Katherine’s team (Marquette) won 72-65. Michelle got 18 points and 13 rebounds in the loss and hit three consecutive three-point shots to get Utah close. But Katherine scored 21 points. Each sister led her team in scoring on that night.
As identical twins excelling in the same sport, the Plouffe sisters have always been compared with each other, but it’s something they do, too. After all, they share the same athletic build (they’re both lean-and-mean and six-foot-three in height) and have both being playing since they were six years old. They were inspired by their older sister, Andrea, who played competitively throughout her youth and was eventually picked up by the University of Washington. All of this can spark competition, of course, but it also offers the athletes a rare gift: “I think seeing each other doing well gives us confidence in our own abilities,” says Michelle.
Things could have turned out very differently. Growing up in an athletic family, the twins played a variety of sports, including volleyball and soccer. While they gravitated to basketball – and began playing in youth leagues when they were in the second grade – they both considered pursuing volleyball for a time. In an alternate dimension, they might have chosen different sports and had very different careers. “I’m sure we would have been successful in other sports because we’re both very competitive, hard-working people,” says Michelle, “but I don’t think it would’ve been as enjoyable a journey if we hadn’t done it together.”
Of course, while the twins have both found success in basketball, they haven’t been leading identical careers. Last year, Michelle became the first Edmonton woman to be drafted by the WNBA. She was picked 19th overall by the Seattle Storm, although she didn’t manage to get one of the roster spots during the training camp. She played just nine minutes in one preseason game and turned the ball over four times. In 2012, she played for Canada women’s national basketball team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
In the spring, after graduating from their respective alma maters, the 23-year-olds’ careers converged when they were both chosen for Canada’s team for the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women. For several months, the sisters trained together in Edmonton at the University of Alberta’s Saville Centre and then competed overseas. Their team placed fifth overall. In July 2015, both Plouffe sisters were on the Canadian team that beat the United States 81-73 to claim the country’s first-ever Pan American Games gold medal in women’s basketball. Fittingly, those games were held on home soil in Toronto.
The 2014 world championship was the first time in many years that the sisters had played on the same team, but it felt natural. “We have a little bit of twin telepathy,” jokes Katherine. “But we’ve been separated for four years, so now it’s a bit of a weak signal.” Of course, even if the twins don’t actually swap brain waves, they can communicate in a way other players can’t: “On the court, it probably looked like we had some magical powers because we’ve been training together our whole lives,” Katherine adds.
In September 2014, when the FIBA team disbanded, the twins’ careers deviated once again. They joined two different teams in Europe, where women’s basketball is more popular than it is in Canada. Katherine was in Romania playing for pro team ICIM Arad, on the western edge of Transylvania close to the Hungarian border, while Michelle cracked the starting five for one of Europe’s best pro teams, Arras Pays d’Artois in France. But while they are once again apart – in fact, now farther apart than ever before – their goals are remarkably similar. Michelle says she’d like to go the Olympics again and would like another stab at the WNBA. Katherine, too, would like to make the Olympic team as well as the WNBA. Regardless of what happens, both would like to play ball for as long as they possibly can – hopefully well into their 30s. “It really depends on whether your body holds up and whether you have a chance to play,” says Katherine. But the twins are still young; most women basketball players don’t peak until their late 20s.
While young, the twins are pragmatic: the time will eventually come when basketball is no longer an option. When that happens, they plan to go into business, like their big sister, and head back to Canada. “I think we’ll definitely be back in Edmonton. Our family’s there, so it’s a good home base for us, but we don’t know what the future holds.”