During a brilliant four-year career at Washington, Kelsey Plum almost single-handedly transformed UW women’s basketball games into must-see theater while attracting sellout crowds to witness the NCAA record-setting scoring dynamo.
The 24-year-old Southern California native calls Seattle her second home and shares a unique connection to this city and her old school.
“Seattle has a special place in my heart,” said Plum, who returns to Alaska Airlines Arena with the Las Vegas Aces for Friday’s 7 p.m. game against the Storm. “People think I’ve done a lot for Washington, but it’s done so many things for me. The ability to meet and connect with people that I never would have.
“It’s played a big part of my life and my development as a person. I grew with people. … Some of my former teammates will be at the game. Some friends and even some of my professors are coming. It’s going to be fun.”
Plum, who is one of the greatest athletes in UW history, won over 81 percent of her games at Alaska Airlines Arena while compiling a 52-12 record that included an 18-1 mark her senior year.
In this gym, the 5-foot-8 point guard averaged 26.5 points during her career and converted a spectacular 54.7 percent of her field goals during her final season.
And this is the place where the former UW sensation delivered a spellbinding 57-point performance on Senior Night two years ago to move into first place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list.
“One of my favorite moments was my senior year when we played Oklahoma in the tournament,” Plum said referencing a 108-82 rout in the second round of the NCAA tournament in which she broke the NCAA’s single-season scoring record in front of a home crowd of 7,579.
“That was my last game at UW,” she said. “That was pretty special to me because the crowd stayed. We were up by a bunch of points, but they stayed until the end. That just meant a lot because most people would have just left. So that was pretty cool.
“I love the school and I love the city with how they supported us. I just remember being so proud to wear UW on my chest. I’m just proud to be a Dawg.”
And yet, in many ways, Plum is haunted by her illustrious past.
After scoring 3,527 points at Washington and sweeping the postseason player of the year awards, Plum was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA draft taken by the San Antonio Stars, which moved to Las Vegas.
However, the on-court success hasn’t followed her to the pros in part because Plum has had to adjust to a more traditional playmaking role that requires her to orchestrate the offense and facilitate for teammates.
It also remains to be seen if the diminutive lefty shooter can dominate offensively in a league where nine of the top 10 scorers are post players.
“At UW, I was always that underdog that surprised people,” Plum said. “I always did more than people expected. When I got to the pro level, the expectations were really high and early in my career it’s been frustrating trying to navigate people’s expectations versus my own versus who I’m playing with versus being at a new level.
As much as Plum enjoys these trips to Seattle with the Aces, she’s 1-3 in these games while averaging 6.5 points. Last year, she tallied just three points during a pair of road games against the Storm.
Additionally, the homecomings draw the inevitable comparisons between her college and pro careers, which can be humbling.
“It’s been really hard for me,” Plum said. “I can get emotional talking about it. It’s not easy. I know we live in a microwave generation. I came out my senior year averaging 30 points and people think that’s just going to translate to the WNBA and it just doesn’t. It’s different.”
Midway into her third WNBA season, the most prolific scorer in NCAA history is averaging just 7.4 points while shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 33.9 percent on three-pointers.
Plum began the season with double-digit scoring outings in 5 of the first 7 games, including back-to-back games where she tallied 19 and a season-high 21.
Since then, Plum has slipped into a shooting slump and has scored five or fewer points in 8 of the past 10 games. During this stretch, she’s shooting 26.7 percent from the field and 25 percent (8 of 32) behind the arc.
Admittedly, Plum is working to repair a malfunctioning jump shot while also trying to reclaim the joy she felt while playing basketball at UW.
The latter endeavor may be more challenging.
“Every year is a process within itself, but I would be lying if I say this year hasn’t been one of the most difficult,” said Plum, a self-described happy-go-lucky and carefree person. “Every year you come back and you try to add something to your game. You grow and you work. You go overseas and you come back.
“For me, I lost it a little bit in terms of that genuine I’m just having fun playing basketball attitude. … I don’t think I’ve completely figured it out yet, but I will. I’m excited about that.”
Despite Plum’s on-court struggles, Las Vegas has recovered from a tepid 3-3 start and has won 8 of the past 10 games – including a five-game winning streak – to soar to the top of the league standings at 11-5.
With All-Stars A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Kayla McBride, the Aces are the prohibitive favorite to dethrone the Storm (11-8) and win the WNBA title.
“We haven’t won a damn thing yet,” Plum said emphatically. “We have to beat people to win it. You have to prove it every night in this league because the teams are too good.”
Plum was talking about Las Vegas, but could have been talking about herself.
“I’m very confident in myself and I know I’ll get there,” she said. “I know I’ll be the player that I want to be.
“Does it always go as fast as you want it to? No. But that’s where I’m at. I’m continuing to figure that happiness point. When that really comes, I’ll be playing my best basketball.”
Plum’s NCAA records
NCAA all-time scorers
Name, Years, Gms, Pts.
1. Kelsey Plum, 2013-17, 139, 3,527
NCAA single-season scorers
Player, Season, Gms, Points
1. Kelsey Plum, 2016-17, 34, 1,109
NCAA all-time free throws
Name, Years, FTs, FTA, FT%
1. Kelsey Plum, 2014-17, 912, 1,036, 88.0%
Plum’s Washington records:
— Scoring average, points, made field goals, field goal attempts, made three-pointers, three-point field goal attempts, made free throw, free throw attempts and free throw percentage.
SINGLE SEASON (9)
— Scoring average, points, made field goals, field goal attempts, made three-point field goals, three-point field goal attempts, made free throws, free throw attempts and free throw percentage.
— Points, made field goals and field goal attempts.