WNBA's Plum brings perspective, 'kick' to Neighbors' staff

By: Seth Campbell
Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum dribbles the ball against the Washington Mystics during the second half of Game 2 of a WNBA playoff basketball series, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Washington. The Mystics won 103-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Photo by Nick Wass
Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum dribbles the ball against the Washington Mystics during the second half of Game 2 of a WNBA playoff basketball series, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Washington. The Mystics won 103-91. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

— Kelsey Plum wanted to make something abundantly clear Wednesday: she is not retiring from professional basketball.

"I've actually had to tweet out today that I wasn't retiring," Plum said. "This isn't going to be my next endeavor. This is something that I want to do simultaneously while I'm playing."

Plum, the first overall pick of the Las Vegas Aces in the 2017 WNBA Draft, will pick up some coaching duties as a graduate assistant under Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors. Plum played for Neighbors at Washington from 2013-17.

After one day on the job, the Ace is paying off in spades for Neighbors. 

"As far as outreach I just put that little video up (on Twitter) just to kind of tease and introduce and it's got over 150,000 views in one day," Neighbors said. "You read through the comments and there are recruits on there, 'Welp, it looks like I'm going to Arkansas. Welp, I can't wait for Arkansas to call.' And I had to call them because I didn't have them on the call list."

At Washington, Plum became the NCAA's all-time scoring leader with 3,527 points and was the national player of the year as a senior in 2017. She ruptured her Achilles in June and is sitting out the 2020 WNBA season.

Plum had no plans to become a coach, but the timing fit.

"I'm rehabbing a ruptured Achilles and I kind of thought I'm not exactly sure about what I want to do after basketball," Plum said. "So I want to try some different things."

That's when Neighbors gave her a call. 

"I reach out to her every year, just to see if there is anything that has interest," Neighbors said. "It was time for that annual call. I called on a great day. She had just been thinking about possibly getting her masters degree, and she's rehabbing an injury. Just with all the new things with covid and having to do all of this stuff virtually, it just worked out perfect.

"She's always been my toughest critic and that's what's driven me. I wouldn't be the coach here today if she wouldn't have helped me back there. We wouldn't have been successful. She knows me. She'll be able to kick me in the butt when I need a kick in the butt, and she's pretty good at giving you a pat on the back when you need a pat on the back."

Plum will work on her masters degree at Arkansas.

"I think I'm mature enough to handle it," she said. "It's really just about managing your time and prioritizing certain things. Yeah it's not going to be easy, but I think that I've never really taken the easy road anyway, so it's not really new for me. But I am excited because I think that this is going to open so many doors."

Neighbors said Plum will provide "the most unique perspective that's ever existed" for his players.

"I can tell them what my perceptions are of what I've seen and they might listen to me a little bit," Neighbors said. "But coming from Kelsey, somebody that has done and is currently doing it, is so valuable. She's going to impact so many lives that way."

Plum sees some similarities between the Razorbacks and her teams at Washington that were a combined 98-41, played in three NCAA Tournaments and advanced to the 2016 Final Four.

"I think they're exciting to watch, and it's the style of play that I think draws people in," she said. "(It's) very similar to how we played at Washington - run and gun, shoot it, no one be afraid. That's the style that you want to recruit to, that's the style that kids love to play for and it's fun to watch as fans."

Plum will join her former Washington teammate, Chantel Osahor, on the Arkansas staff, which is another reason why she decided to come to Arkansas. Plum and Osahor were classmates who freshmen in Neighbors' first year as a head coach.

"To be able to come full circle and come back and continue to foster those relationships, to me it's a blessing," Plum said. "That's one of the biggest selling points for me personally as well. I know we didn't talk about it as much, but that's a community for me. Those are people that have been in my corner since Day 1. I'm very grateful for this opportunity to go back and work with them."

Neighbors wants Plum's first priority to be getting healthy. 

"She's going to get rehabbed first," he said. "She's got to get that Achilles in great shape. She's going to have all of that (rehab) done before she gets here full time."

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