LAS VEGAS — “I don’t think I’ve been so happy in a long time,” Las Vegas Aces point guard Kelsey Plum told High Post Hoops after her first day back in practice with the team.
“I’m excited to be back. I love these girls. I love playing for Bill [Laimbeer]. I know there’s a lot of hype around this season, so it should be a lot of fun.”
Excited might even be an understatement.
A team official told High Post Hoops that Plum had sent a text message asking for the Aces playbook in the midst of a championship celebration with overseas club Fenerbache. After clinching that title on a Wednesday, Plum hopped right on a plane to get to Las Vegas the following evening in order to join the team in practice on Friday.
Plum went straight to get a physical after landing in Vegas that Thursday and got back to her hotel by 11 PM that evening. She got some blood work done in the morning then was right back to work on the practice floor with the Aces.
“I love basketball, so I wanna be here,” Plum said. “I wanna work, and I think that I’ve always been like that. I wouldn’t change now. People are like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta rest, you’ve gotta do this.’ Mentally, I’m so fresh. I’ve never been fresher.”
Aces assistant coach Vickie Johnson is the one often out on the floor with Plum hours before practice and on game days. Johnson cracked that she’s glad Plum is back so that she has more to do before highlighting the message she sends with her drive to compete and to get to training camp as soon as possible.
“I love it. I think we’re missing that,” she said. “When I played, we took pride in playing both. We never complained about going overseas. Overseas was an opportunity to get better and make great money. Here in the W, it’s about prestige. It’s playing against the best players every night, the best players in practice and aiming for a championship.
“I think Plum has that old-school mentality. She just loves playing basketball. Basketball is her life. And not too many players are like that anymore. It’s a hobby. But for her, basketball is her life.”
The third-year guard hadn’t been home in nearly seven months. What allowed her to plug right back in without any time whatsoever between seasons to decompress?
“I think it’s a sense of gratitude—how excited I am to be able to play with this group of women and to play for Bill,” Plum said. “I texted Bill this offseason and said, ‘I miss playing for you.’ I love being here, and I want this to be able to be my home. So for that to happen, I know I have to perform and I have to play well, so that means getting here as quick as I can.”
“She’s an intriguing person,” Laimbeer said with a smile. “She’s kind of maniacal at times—a good word for an athlete. She’s just an intense, driven individual. She finished in Turkey and was here the next day. She loves to play basketball; that’s who she is.”
Plum noted that she spent the time overseas focused on becoming a better defender and sharpening her midrange game, but isn’t caught up in boosting her individual statistics.
“I can control what I can control,” Plum added. “That’s my effort and my attitude. I’m going to come to practice every day and bring a bunch of energy, be super locked in and focused trying to push my teammates. As long as we stay collective and together, I think we’re going to be a very good team.”
Mike Neighbors coached Plum at Washington and was in town recently to catch a few practices. He wasn’t surprised in the slightest to hear the story of Plum’s eagerness to get right back into the swing of things.
“That’s exactly how she showed up as a freshman at Washington,” Neighbors told High Post Hoops before sharing a similar story dating back to Plum’s freshman year. “She had been playing with USA Basketball, who had the players’ flights headed back to their hometowns, and she had hers sent right to Seattle. She never went home. I picked her up at the airport that night and she said, ‘Let’s go to the gym.’
“It would’ve surprised me if she didn’t do something like that. It’s who she is and what makes her different.”
The Thursday flight back to Las Vegas also meant that Plum was in the air as the Liz Cambage trade was finalized.
“I was on a 14-hour flight, so I didn’t get it until my texts came through,” Plum said. “I knew it was final when I landed.”
The WNBA world will be fascinated to watch this season unfold for the Aces, who have managed to add several dynamic players this offseason. What were Plum’s early impressions of another notable newcomer in 2019 No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young?
“I knew she was a great athlete. But she is so strong, just the way she finishes at the rim,” Plum said. “She’s very skilled—the ability to get in, create contact and finish. That’s very hard for a young guard, so that’s special that she has that right away. That was the first thing I noticed. I was like, ‘Wow, she gets into the lane with ease.’ And we’re playing against men. I’m really excited to watch her, and I know that her potential is limitless.”
Plum and Young are both expected to run the point this season for the Aces. Last season’s team narrowly missed on a playoff bid as they came together after a 1-7 start, in part derailed by Plum and Kayla McBride’s late arrivals from overseas play.
As one of the facilitators expected to set people up in the right places, Plum is approaching the season with an open mind to do whatever is asked of her.
“I’m a point guard,” Plum said. “I know that my job is to be able to do whatever the team needs. I know we have great players. We’ve got A’ja [Wilson], we have [McBride], Liz is coming in, [Sugar Rodgers] can shoot it, Jackie’s obviously a baller. So there’s a lot of pieces. I’m just going to do whatever coach needs me to do, and we’ll figure it out.”
“Her without the ball sometimes is even harder to guard than with it,” Neighbors said. “And Jackie makes such good decisions. When I saw them pick her and make the trade, you could kind of see it starting to lay out, what their plan was and the blueprint.”
The Aces have given their city plenty to be excited about as the franchise kicks off its second season in town. Players and team officials alike are proud of what they’ve built and appreciated the response of the growing fan base in year one.
“Vegas is awesome,” Plum said. “The support we had last year, and now I think there’s even more hype. People were excited that are going to come back. I know we’ve got new fans. MGM is unbelievable the way they promote us, just the hype they have around this city. It’s an honor to be here and a privilege to wear the Aces on your chest.
“I know there’s a lot of players around the league that would love to be in this position that we’re in and have the support that we have, so it should be a lot of fun. And I know Liz is like the icing on the cupcake.”
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