Kelsey Plum, the GOAT of Washington women’s basketball, is finding new opportunities despite a devastating injury setback.
In a general sense, 2020 didn’t go anyone’s way, and it doesn’t need to be described why in this blog. But for former Husky basketball star Kelsey Plum — now with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces — this year has been a different beast entirely.
Plum, who set the all-time NCAA women’s basketball scoring record during her time with the Huskies, suffered a season-ending achilles tear in June before the 2020 season even began.
In three years with the Aces, the former 2017 first overall pick had carved out a role as a solid shooter with the second unit (albeit with some consistency issues), averaging 8.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 rebounds in just under 25 minutes a game. But last year’s WNBA playoffs showed a glimmer of something more, when she averaged 15.2 points, 7.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds per contest and displayed a marked increase in confidence attacking off the dribble and taking contested shots.
She also shot 52.9% on three-pointers and 49.2% from the field in that span, and her shooting was a point of optimism in the offseason for many who remembered the player who swept every player of the year award in her final year in a Husky uniform.
It seemed the “female James Harden,” as many had taken to calling her while she played for UW (their name, not mine) had finally arrived.
That momentum going into the season evaporated with the injury news, especially with the logistical difficulties of a condensed season in a bubble in Florida’s IMG Academy.
Even without Plum, the Aces are locked into a five-game battle with the Connecticut Sun that will determine whether they make the WNBA Finals for the second year in a row. But Vegas is struggling shooting-wise from deep compared to the regular season. Angel McCoughtry has been incredibly productive with high volume shooting and A’ja Wilson has had great nights down low against the Sun’s frontcourt, but no one other than McCoughtry has made more than 1 3-pointer in the postseason. It’s fairly clear to see the element that Plum could’ve brought this year, even if the Aces do survive to move on. But unfortunately she can only sit and watch.
That being said, it’s not accurate to say she’s just been sitting around.
Earlier in September, The Seattle Times’ Percy Allen reported that she had accepted a gig with former UW coach Mike Neighbors as a grad assistant with his Arkansas program — a dream get for Neighbors, and one that likely wouldn’t have been remotely possible without the circumstances of earlier in the year.
“Kelsey will be responsible for preparing our players for their transition from life as Division I athletes to life as professionals, whether that will be in basketball or in another chosen career path,” Neighbors said in a statement released by Arkansas. “Using her own experiences, as well as those she’s witnessed in her career, Kelsey will give our student-athletes a rare look into the behaviors and habits of one of the best players on the planet.”
Having anyone who has accomplished as much as Plum did in her college career on a coaching staff is an incredible culture boost, something that won’t be quantifiable until after her tenure there ends But be confident that this is a huge deal.
Plum still has three years remaining on her $423,250 contract with the Aces, but it’s unclear whether she will pursue coaching and take a break from playing when the 2021 season rolls around. It’s not uncommon for WNBA players to opt-out of playing and push contractual obligations ahead a year; Plum’s Aces teammate Liz Cambage did the same when she was under contract for the Dallas Wings. It could be a prudent move, not just for Kelsey Plum the basketball player but also for Kelsey Plum the person.
She’s never indicated that her ultimate goal as of right now is anything but to return to playing. But she’s also been a frequent guest analyst for WNBA games on ESPN and it appears she’s making the most out of her time away from the court by expanding her opportunities in the future off it.
Given the length and difficulty of rehabbing from an Achilles injury compared to most other sports injuries, this is a move that allows her to work in basketball and focus on her recovery without feeling too pressured to return to play before she feels ready. It also allows her to obtain a graduate degree and some coaching experience that will almost certainly benefit her down the road, whether she becomes a coach after her career ends or not.
Good luck to the GOAT in all of her endeavors ahead — she deserves every bit of success she gets.