By Tom Petrini
NEW YORK- With the first pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, the San Antonio Stars may have selected a generational talent in Kelsey Plum.
The Stars have a record of just 15-53 in the past two seasons, but change may be on the horizon. They have a talented young core, and just added one of the most productive basketball players in NCAA history. For Plum and her family, this night was a long time coming.
All of the camera crews assembled around Plum’s table before the draft began, but the star of the show wasn’t there. Mrs. Plum scanned the room intently with her phone to her ear trying to locate her daughter, who got back to the table just before the 7 pm start.
The broadcast crew speculated about who would be picked first, and Mr. Plum flashed his daughter a knowing grin when someone mentioned that San Antonio needed a do-it all guard. Most experts agreed heading into the draft that Plum was the best player available and would be picked at number one.
The only question was whether or not the Stars would keep the pick. San Antonio already has two young guards to build around in Moriah Jefferson and Kayla McBride, and rumors swirled that they were considering trading Plum for a big. None of that came to fruition, and the Stars selected the 5’8” lefty first overall.
There it is, Kelsey Plum goes number one overall to the San Antonio Stars pic.twitter.com/kpMVLV0OX0
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) April 13, 2017
When asked what was going through her head at that moment, Plum said, “My sister was next to me. I just kind of touched her and took a deep breath. It’s an unreal feeling. I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. I’m just very grateful.”
In her four years at the University of Washington, Plum put together one of the best college basketball careers ever. She put up 3,527 points, the most ever for a woman and just 270 behind ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich for the most all-time. In her senior season, she averaged 31.7 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor, 42.8 percent from three and 88.7 percent from the free throw line, earning AP Player of the Year honors.
A reporter who couldn’t have been much older than ten asked Plum how she attacks a defender, and she talked about the importance of having a well-rounded skillset to take whatever the defender gives you. She can shoot from anywhere if the defense sags off, but she told the young man that her favorite thing to do was drive left and draw contact on the way to the rim.
This was a really cool moment, Plum explaining her offensive game to a young reporter pic.twitter.com/VPNzVfRWWi
— Tom Petrini (@RealTomPetrini) April 14, 2017
Plum dropped 57 points on her senior night, earning a congratulatory tweet from one of her favorite players, Kobe Bryant. Kobe put up 60 in his final game, but he jacked up 22 more shots than Plum did in her send off. I asked her if she feels like she has a mamba mentality, and how she balances that with her absurd efficiency.
“I definitely try to play aggressive from the jump, just the way you approach the game, but yeah being efficient is huge. If you take a lot of shots and don’t make them, you’re not helping your team in any way.”
Her UW coach Mike Neighbors got emotional talking about his experience coaching one of the greatest college players of all time. He mentioned that he’s only been a head coach for four years, and Plum has played in every game he’s coached.
“I know she taught me more about coaching than I taught her about basketball,” said Neighbors. “She was a pleasure to coach and a pain in the ass to coach all together, but I hope I get more like her in the future. I hope she changed the game, I hope kids have been inspired by her, and if not then they’re not paying attention.”
Her high school teammate Brianne Yasukochi said she wasn’t surprised at all that Plum was selected first. She called her friend one of the most hard working people she knows, and recalled that the two would go to the gym at 5 am every morning before class. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Kawhi Leonard’s coach at San Diego State told a very similar story to highlight Leonard’s work ethic.
Plum seems intent on applying that work ethic to becoming a better defender. She mentioned that she’s been in the gym getting stronger in order to compete, and she pointed to her defense as an area she hopes to improve.
Plum said that she was really excited to be heading to San Antonio to play alongside Moriah Jefferson and Kayla McBride under Vickie Johnson. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” said Plum. “I’m going to make the most of it.”
The 22-year-old has said that she wants to have an immediate impact at the WNBA level, and I asked her what her goals are heading into her first season with a Stars team that has struggled on the offensive end.
“I think obviously I’d like to play great and I’d like to be efficient and score the ball, but I’d like to do whatever my team wants. Whatever my coach needs me to do, I’m happy to do it,” said Plum.
Only time will tell if Plum can replicate the success she had in college at the professional level. If she does, she will go down as one of the greatest basketball players ever, period. That’s her goal, but she knows she has a long way to go.