By Ashley MackinLa Jolla Country Day senior basketball star Kelsey Plum is one player who does not leave it all on the court. For the accomplished athlete, the (not so) secret to her success is practice.
As obvious at it might sound, the five-foot- eight player said practice is the most important part of the game. She said it gives her a “psychological edge, knowing that you put up more time and shots than your competitor.”
And the hours of practice have done her well, as Plum was named to the all-CIF team for winter sports in December, was named Cal-Hi Sport’s Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year for California, scored her 2,000th career point in February, took the LJCDS Torreys to CIF Regional Semi-Finals in March and just got back from a week-long trip to play with other top players, which she calls the “greatest experience of her life.”
On April 2, Plum competed in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, which features the top 48 players in the country. On April 6, she competed in the WBCA All- American Game in New Orleans, which brings the top 20 national players together, and was coached by players from the WNBA.
For this and every game, Plum said, “The biggest preparation comes from practicing, mostly on your own.” Plum wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to practice shooting by herself, goes to school, has the team practice, followed by more individual practice.
“The hours you practice with your team is all your team stuff — plays and offense — but I think personally that doesn’t count,” she said. “When people say ‘did you practice today?’ I only say yes if I practiced by myself.
“I think a lot of young athletes don’t get that you can’t just go to your team practice, work hard and expect to be a standout.” Plum said she believes that when it comes to skill, it’s 85 percent practice and 15 percent natural ability.
What she does attribute to natural ability comes from her family, who she said are all very competitive. Having originally placed her in recreation basketball league in fourth grade, her dad took her out because it wasn’t competitive enough. She escalated to play in leagues for older children and in boy’s leagues.
With two older sisters and one younger brother (who is six-foot-two), Plum said she was “always the little guy” when her family would play sports. Her sisters, who both play college volleyball, are her role models.
Though she is the only one in her family who plays basketball, Plum said the sport is “always with me.”
When she’s not playing or practicing basketball, she’s watching it or thinking about it, even admitting to thinking about upcoming games during class.
She said she watches College basketball, the WNBA and the NBA (including the playoffs), especially the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant. She said she appreciates Durant because he is humble, but gets the job done.
Mimicking that humble attitude, she attributes her 2,000th point to her team. “Honestly, 2,000 points is just a symbol of different coaches I’ve had and my teammates passing me the ball. It’s more accolades for the school and the town that’s supported us over the years,” she said.
Even though her basketball season is over, she still practices regularly in preparation for attending Washington University next year.
While in college, she said she plans to win the National Championship and has aspirations to play in the WNBA, eventually finding a career as a sports analyst.
Her experience at La Jolla Country Day has been a great starting off point. “La Jolla Country Day is great community, they are super supportive, but none of this would have happened if I wasn’t coached by (Terri) Bamford. She really pushed me and I’m so grateful because she made me into the player that I am.”
That appreciation seems to go both ways, as Bamford calls Plum “A coach’s dream player.” She said, “(Plum’s) work ethic is off the charts, and she has such passion and excitement for the game. ... Kelsey loves to practice and has set the standard of how hard you have to work to be successful. She has grown so much in the past four years in her skill set, basketball IQ and her leadership. ... Kelsey is an amazing player to coach and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be her coach these past four years.”