After a month at home with family and friends in San Diego, the junior guard is ready to resume her brilliant career — and her assault on Washington scoring records.
Kelsey Plum needed to leave it all behind and get out of Seattle.
Last August, she had to get away from the responsibility of being the face of Washington women’s basketball team if just for a little while.
So she went home to sunny San Diego and surrounded herself with the people who knew her before she became a basketball sensation.
Key to the season
Plum, Plum and more Plum: Junior guard Kelsey Plum, an All-American candidate, set a season UW scoring record (22.6 points per game) last season despite injuring her right knee in December.
What’s Plan B?: Plum can’t be the star every game. She needs help, and senior forward Talia Walton, who averaged 13.0 points last season, will have to take over when teams focus on stopping Plum.
Anyone else?: Sophomore guard Brianna Ruiz, who started 28 games last season, and junior forward Katie Collier could be poised for breakout seasons. Ruiz is a rangy defender with three-point prowess, and Collier has shown potential as a low-post offensive threat.
Bigger might not be better: Chantel Osahor moves into the starting lineup at center, and at times the Huskies will pair the 6-foot-2 junior with 6-5 freshman Deja Strother, a McDonald’s All-American from Inglemoor High. It remains to be seen if UW can maintain its up-tempo attack with Osahor and Strother on the court.
Dominate early: Last season the Huskies dropped the opener before winning the next 11. Their 11-1 non-conference record coupled with a respectable 11-7 Pac-12 record and 1-1 showing in the conference tournament was enough to warrant an NCAA tourney invitation for the first time since 2007.
She retreated to her old room, which seemed frozen in time. She slept in her old bed and found comfort in the loving embraces of her mom and older sister.
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It had been so long since they were together like this as a family. Three years, to be exact.
“I hadn’t seen them a lot because I’ve been either playing for USA Basketball or going to summer school here at Washington,” Plum said. “So being able to go home for longer than two days was awesome.”
Plum, 21, gabbed for hours about everything and nothing with her 23-year-old sister, Lauren. Meanwhile, she took up bikram yoga with her mom, Katie.
“It was her idea for me to go,” said Plum, who laughed while remembering how they spent five days a week stretching and bending in a 100-degree room. “She said, ‘You need to get into yoga.’ Then I was like, ‘Well you need to go with me.’ ”
The summer respite was exactly what Plum needed after last season’s grind nearly pushed her to the brink.
“I kind of had to refuel my body and get recharged,” she said. “I take a lot of pounding during the season and play a lot of minutes. I hit the ground a lot.”
After a month away, the junior guard was ready to return to Montlake and resume a brilliant career — and what has been an unrelenting assault on UW scoring records.
“Not that it (being at home) wasn’t great — because it was — but you gain an appreciation and miss Seattle,” Plum said. “I kinda realized that Seattle is my home. And I missed it.
• The regular season features a trip to the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas to face 23rd-ranked Syracuse on Nov. 28. No. 17 Oklahoma also visits Washington on Dec. 6 in the Huskies’ other premier non-conference game.
• Due to the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule, UW won’t play at defending champion Oregon State and will not host Stanford and California. The Huskies were 2-4 against them and 9-3 vs. the rest of the conference last season.
• UW hosts Arizona State on Jan. 8 in its Pac-12 home opener, which begins a five-game homestand that ends with Washington State on Jan. 23.
“It was good to have time to miss it. I liked that. And I missed my teammates. Going back, it was really exciting like, ‘Man I can’t wait to see these people again.’ ”
If anyone is looking for a label for the UW women’s basketball season, they might call it “unfinished business.”
Last season the Huskies finished with a 23-10 record and snapped an eight-year NCAA tournament drought.
Mike Neighbors, who enters his fourth season as coach at UW, suspected the Huskies wouldn’t have a long run in the Big Dance and, sure enough, they were bounced 86-80 in the opener.
“We got to Iowa, and in the press conference I had (seniors Jazmine Davis and Aminah Williams) up there and they were like, ‘Oh we’re so glad to be here,’ ” Neighbors said. “And you knew it. But I wasn’t going to take that from them, because that’s all we talked about for four years.
“I do think the win-everything mentality that we carried over into this year is the result of that. Just getting there is not good enough anymore.”
Any chance the Huskies have to return to the NCAA tourney starts with Plum, the reigning Pac-12 scoring champion who finished seventh in the nation in scoring with an average of 22.6 points per game.
She became the program’s season scoring leader with 746 points and set the game scoring record with 45 points against Oklahoma.
Plum, who averaged nearly 37 minutes a game last season, also finished with a career-best 51 steals.
And she played half the season on an injured right knee.
Plum is still somewhat vague on the injury that occurred Dec. 29 against Texas A&M.
However, Neighbors said: “The same week that she was diagnosed, there were three professional athletes that ended their season because of the same injury — a couple of NBA guys.”
Plum considered midseason surgery but decided to play with a large brace.
“I would have never done it unless her parents had been in the room and the doctors had been in the room,” Neighbors said.
“I wouldn’t be that guy that said, ‘Hey you’re going to play.’ I’m not that guy. But when you have a player like that who says that, all you can do is get behind them and try to manage her reps in practice.”
Plum had surgery after the season and recovered in time to participate with the USA Basketball team that competed in the Pan American Games in July in Toronto.
She discarded the new brace and added a new weapon to her arsenal — passing. The newfound skill should help Plum in her move from shooting guard to point guard this season.
“I’m not going to take less shots,” said Plum, who averaged 16.5 attempts last season.
“The best way to put it is — if I was a knife before, then I’ve been sharpened and I can be used for more than just killing.
“I got to play defense. I got to pass the ball. I got to lead. Not that I didn’t before, but it’s on a bigger scale.”