MIAMI LAKES, Fla. -- Katie Lou Samuelson and Devin Cannady took their marriage vows in April. They made another vow to each other long before that.
An Olympic vow.
It was July 2021 during the Tokyo Olympics, when Samuelson's team won a gold medal without her. Samuelson tested positive for COVID-19 right before the women's 3x3 basketball team was leaving for Japan, denying her the chance to compete and become an Olympian.
Samuelson was in her family's Southern California home as that competition ended, distraught over not being able to play. Cannady, her boyfriend at the time who couldn't even hug her because of the precautions necessary after she tested positive, asked her a simple question: Does she want to go to Paris in 2024?
She said yes. Cannady promised he would be with her for every step of that journey. And here they are, set to compete essentially side-by-side at the FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup that started Thursday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Americans open play Saturday, Cannady part of the men's squad, Samuelson part of the women's team -- their 4-month-old daughter there as well.
"I have some unfinished business," Samuelson said after a training camp practice in South Florida this week. "I clearly wanted to be a part of the Tokyo Olympics, and I was about 24 hours away from getting there. So it was kind of important for me to give myself just the opportunity to be in the mix, and I needed to play in something in order to be in that mix. That really pushed me this last month to get back to where I need to be."
The U.S. has already qualified for the Paris Games in all four basketball disciplines -- men's, women's, men's 3x3 and women's 3x3. It won gold medals in Tokyo in men's, women's and women's 3x3; the U.S. didn't qualify for the men's 3x3 event there.
No players have been officially picked for any of those teams. Samuelson is very much in the women's 3x3 mix for next summer, and Cannady has hopes as well for the men's 3x3 game.
"Just to be in this moment and going to Puerto Rico, playing AmeriCup, it's not Paris yet, but this is part of that journey," said Cannady, who is playing in the G League and has made 13 NBA appearances with the Orlando Magic. "I'm hungry. I know she's hungry. We're as a family, we're here. It's part of the process. I don't know what July or August looks like with Team USA, but this is part of those vows we had and that's why we're really doing this."
Samuelson was a day away from leaving Las Vegas for Tokyo when the official word came that she was out. She woke up with a scratchy throat, took a rapid test that was negative and then took a more invasive test. It, too, was negative. Then came a positive, another negative and more positives, and it became clear that she was not going to play with Kelsey Plum, Stefanie Dolson and Allisha Gray. Jackie Young took Samuelson's place.
"Heartbreaking," Dolson said at the time.
Samuelson spent four days in quarantine in her Las Vegas hotel room -- another vow she has since taken was never to return to that hotel -- before her father brought her a car so she could drive home. She drove alone for fear that she would make anyone else sick.
"One of the lowest points of my life," Samuelson said. "For those 14 days, I couldn't even get a hug."
Samuelson was a star player at UConn, winning a national championship, two American Athletic Conference Player of the Year awards and being a three-time All-American selection during her time there. She was the No. 4 pick in the 2019 WNBA draft and has been with four teams in her four seasons, missing this year because of the birth of her daughter.
She has been the director of player development for Vanderbilt women's basketball for about a year and now is back on the floor for the first time since becoming a mom -- an eye on Paris, yes, but also trying to ensure that she remains in the moment.
"It could be one day away and taken away," Samuelson said. "I was so close to Tokyo, and I didn't even get to go there. So now I just want to be ready for this tournament and then go to the next step. And there's still a lot more steps that need to happen before Paris. There's a lot of things that can happen in my life, in Devin's life, that could change the trajectory. I think we both have seen that in this past year. We have that goal. That is a big goal. But the first step for me is getting back on the court."