Not often can one say they were the first to ever do something, especially at the Olympics.
However, former UW women’s basketball star Kelsey Plum and current Seattle Storm guard Katie Lou Samuelson will do just that this summer.
The pair punched their tickets to Tokyo on Wednesday after being named to the inaugural U.S. 3×3 women’s basketball team. They’ll be joined by the Chicago Sky’s Stefanie Dolson and the Dallas Wings’ Allisha Gray and will be led by Duke women’s basketball head coach Kara Lawson.
“I feel so blessed to be a part of this group, to be picked for the first time ever for 3×3 in the Olympics, to represent USA, represent my family, I mean so many different emotions,” Plum said during a video conference call on Wednesday. “As a kid, you grow up dreaming of this moment and they didn’t have 3×3 when I was coming up, so it was always 5-on-5. Obviously, eventually that’s something I’d like to do but in the meantime, I think this is pretty freaking cool.”
Plum and Samuelson were crucial parts of Team USA’s qualification, as the squad swept through Pool A with a perfect 4-0 record. In six games, Plum averaged 5.3 points per game, while Samuelson grabbed 3.7 rebounds per game.
A faster-paced, half-court version of basketball, 3×3 is one of several new sports debuting at the Tokyo Olympics. Games are 10 minutes long or played until one team scores 21 points, with shots outside the three-point line counting as two points and anything inside the arc as just one. Teams also only get one substitution. Samuelson described it as an exciting iteration of the sport with a streetball vibe.
“It’s something that gets people tuned in,” Plum said. “It’s pretty fast, it’s not a big commitment, it’s not a two-hour commitment, it’s probably about 15-20 minutes, and again, I just feel really honored to be a part of it.”
The all-time leading scorer in program history at Washington, Plum broke the NCAA single-season scoring record in 2016-17 and was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft by the San Antonio Stars, who relocated and became the Las Vegas Aces. After missing the 2020 season because of an Achilles injury, she said the 3×3 format has helped her regain her form and emerge as a frontrunner for the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year Award.
“I think for me, 3×3 has given me a level of aggression because it’s a lot of beating your man and things like that,” she said. “And then in addition to that, just the physicality, how physical it is, and how in-shape you have to be to play it, your foot is on the pedal the entire game.”
Samuelson joined the Storm via trade in February. Originally selected by the Chicago Sky with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, the University of Connecticut alum is averaging 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists, all career-bests. She’s also shooting 48.1% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc.
While the ultimate goal is to win gold, Plum and Samuelson both emphasized their desires to see 3×3 become a global sport and teach younger players that Team USA dreams don’t have to start and stop with 5-on-5.
“People can grow up knowing there are different routes, there’s different options to playing basketball and getting to the Olympics,” Samuelson said.
Team USA begins play July 24 when they face France at the Aomi Urban Sports Park in Tokyo. Local fans who want to watch will have to be up late though, as tipoff is scheduled for 1:55 a.m. No matter the end result, Plum is just trying to appreciate and enjoy the experience.
“It’s once in a lifetime right?” she said. “There will never be another first. This is pretty special.”