Opening day for the WNBA season is still a month away, but 2023 is already off to a dream start for Las Vegas Aces’ All-Star guard Kelsey Plum. For starters, the 28-year-old former No. 1 draft pick comes in off her most prolific year to date, averaging career highs of 20.2 points (second most in the regular season) and 5.1 assists per game in 2022, which ended with the Aces winning the WNBA championship for the first time in franchise history.
She’s also starting the season on a newlywed high after marrying NFL tight end Darren Wallen on March 4. But perhaps what really has Plum excited is the successful launch of a deeply personal project, the Kelsey Plum Dawg Class powered by UA Next. Held this past April 14-16 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Plum partnered with sponsor Under Armour to host a three-day camp designed to help women college athletes navigate the journey from college basketball to the professional level.
“The impact that we’ve already made in terms of the growth that these women have [experienced] in just a short amount of time is really cool to see,” Plum told On Her Turf from Bradenton, where she joined the nine chosen athletes in all training sessions and acted as the camp’s 10th player – in honor of her jersey No. 10.
“When you talk about making an impact, Under Armour has just thrown the kitchen sink at this with the resources in terms of trainers, strength and conditioning, mental performance — really kind of attacking all sides of what it takes to be able to grow as a player. I’m really proud to be a part of it, and this is beyond my expectations.”
Plum’s now-famous “dawg mentality” is reflected in every aspect of the class, which featured a star-studded lineup of college guards including recent No. 2 WNBA draft pick Diamond Miller (Maryland), Azzi Fudd (UConn), Deja Kelly(UNC), Georgia Amoore (Virginia Tech), Gianna Kneepkens (Utah), Hailey Van Lith (transfer portal, Louisville), KK Bransford (Notre Dame), Raven Johnson (South Carolina) and Rori Harmon (Texas).
Each guard was hand-picked by Plum for their on-court skills as well as their shared mentality and commitment, which she hopes to encourage by providing players with tools and insights to succeed. Plum’s project has already caught the attention of fellow players including Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Natasha Cloud and Chelsea Gray.
“It’s been really cool to see a lot of my colleagues in the W just reach out and say, ‘Hey, this is really cool, what you’re doing. This is what we need to grow the game, and this matters,” said Plum. “This is a baby step to a bigger vision, but I think that when you have something, you’ve got to share it. It’s like paying it forward. I’ve had people in my life like a Sue Bird or Diana (Taurasi) mentor me, and I know how much it impacted my life. And so if I can figure out a way to do that for them — or at least put them in touch with someone that can do that for them — that to me is purposeful.”
To that end, Plum enlisted members of her own teams on and off the court to participate in the weekend, which consisted of multiple on-court sessions each day with Plum and her performance team, as well as off-court sessions with experts on three key areas: mental preparation, brand building and first-hand accounts of making the jump to the pros.
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“It’s so crazy because I don’t know a lot of information,” said Miller, who was among the headliners at the WNBA Draft in New York just four days before the start of Dawg Class. “I’m literally still trying to figure it out. I mean, the transition is way quicker than you think. I knew it was quick, but when you’re in the midst of it, you realize that every day can’t be wasted and you’re constantly doing something – that really took me by surprise.”
Golf pro and sport performance coach David Elaimy addressed mental preparation and combatting those inevitable external and internal interferences, while an expert panel including Plum talked personal brand building, navigating brand partnerships and “blocking the noise.” Vegas teammate Gray also shared her journey to the pros, noting challenges she faced during her rookie year and how she persevered, and addressing overall differences between being a college and professional athlete.
“One thing about this camp is it’s short but there are a lot of workouts in one day, and I forgot how much that takes a toll on your body,” said Miller, who’ll report to the Minnesota Lynx’s training camp on April 30. “When you take a break and then come back, your body’s adjusting to the speed of the game — and you still have to be consistent. And one thing I know, training camp is no joke. When you go into the W, you’re taking someone’s job, so there’s no time to feel like my body hurts or I’m tired, because nobody cares. …You just got to push through because training camp is going to be war.”
Plum said her own bumpy experience moving from college to pro basketball was the original impetus for Dawg Class. Despite leaving the Washington Huskies program having set the single-season scoring record (1,109 points) and the NCAA career scoring record (3,527 points) and going as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, she struggled to navigate the transition. Last summer, after being named All-Star Game MVP in her first appearance, Plum revealed that she had suffered a years-long battle with anxiety and depression that shook her confidence and clouded her ability to define herself outside of the context of basketball.
After months of hard work and dedication with the @UnderArmour team, I’m proud to announce the Kelsey Plum Dawg Class!
I know from personal experience that there’s a major gap between the college game and the pro game, and that’s something we are determined to address. https://t.co/O03yVXGQyW
— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) March 1, 2023
“I had everything on paper that looked like I should have been very happy and fulfilled, but internally, I was just absolutely broken,” Plum shared. “When I got to the pro level, I struggled. My performance was always tied in with my confidence, so when I didn’t perform well, I didn’t have any confidence. And that was really detrimental to my mental health. …I was taking heavy medication, I definitely had suicidal ideations. I wasn’t talking to anyone; I wasn’t figuring out how to get help. And a lot of times, when you get to that spot, you don’t even realize you’re in the hole until it’s so deep, and you look up and you feel helpless. This camp has stemmed from me feeling like, OK, helpless is a terrible feeling that you don’t want any human to feel.
“And so this camp is about really trying to answer those questions and being vulnerable, like, ‘Hey, listen, I was the No. 1 pick, and I went through this.’ Everyone goes through this, whether we want to talk about it or not, so let’s talk about it. Let’s open up the discussion for how I got there and then how I got out of it, and what’s allowed me to now be mentally at the freshest, healthiest point in my life.”