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La Jolla Country Day alumna Kelsey Plum wins Olympic gold medal in 3-on-3 basketball

Kelsey Plum celebrates the U.S. victory over Russia in the gold medal game of women's 3-on-3 basketball.
(Associated Press)

The U.S. team defeats Russia in the final in Tokyo.

Kelsey Plum kept reaching down and touching the gold medal around her neck, rubbing it between her fingers, just making sure it was still there.

Sometimes, she turned it over in her hand and gazed at it, one side, then the other.

Yes, it was real. Yes, this was happening.

Plum, a star of La Jolla Country Day School basketball during her high school years and currently a guard with the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA, had dreamed of winning a gold medal in basketball for the United States one day. It just wasn’t in the new Olympic sport of 3-on-3, or 3x3 as it is officially called, and it wasn’t much of a dream last June, after she suffered an Achilles’ tendon injury that typically takes a year or more to completely heal.

But there she was July 28 in Tokyo, helping the U.S. team to an 18-15 win against Russia in the 3x3 final and claiming the first gold medal of these Games by an athlete with San Diego ties.

Two La Jolla Country Day School alumni and one current student have been selected to play Olympic-level basketball this year as members of USA Basketball.

“I thought this was not in the cards for me once I tore my Achilles,” Plum said. “I just feel really grateful and blessed to have the opportunity. USA Basketball didn’t quit on me. They could have taken somebody else and they didn’t. I’m just super grateful.

“This would probably rank highest on my list [of career accomplishments] so far.”

Plum (La Jolla Country Day class of 2013) won multiple section and state titles while playing there. She became the NCAA’s career scoring leader at the University of Washington. She was the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft in 2017. She won a World Cup title with Team USA in traditional basketball in 2018.

Plum began rehabbing immediately after her surgery and was able to attend a pre-Olympic camp in February in South Carolina, despite not being cleared for full activity. Though she wasn’t fully cleared to play, Kara Lawson, the Duke University women’s coach who oversees USA Basketball’s 3x3 program, saw enough.

“It was going to be a big-time effort by her to come back, but it was feasible from a timetable standpoint,” Lawson said. “Each successive camp she was getting better and improving. She’s very competitive and she has a great level of discipline in her pursuit of excellence, from her nutrition to her workouts to studying the game to everything around it.

“She’s very skilled, too. That helped us a lot. But more than anything ... she’s a competitor.”

Plum and the three other players on the team lost only once in nine games. They beat France 18-16 in the semis, then Russia four hours later in the final. Plum scored 11 points between the two games.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.