September 23, 2020
She Got Next, Episode 7: Pepper Persley talks to Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces
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Our Pepper Persley is joined this week by Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces guard, for a rollicking good conversation. The two discuss their history together, what it is like for Plum to watch her Aces compete while she recovers from an achilles injury, and much more. Enjoy!
PEPPER PERSLEY: Hello, and welcome to this episode of “She Got Next.” Boy, have I got an amazing conversation for you today. At guard, 5’8″ from Washington, number 10, Kelsey Plum! Hope you enjoy the interview, everyone.
KELSEY PLUM: What’s up?
PERSLEY: How are you?
PLUM: How are you doing?
PERSLEY: I’m doing good. I’m doing good. I’m very excited. I don’t know if you remember, but I actually met you — when was it — in your rookie season.
PLUM: I remember!
PERSLEY: Yeah, I mean, it was pretty funny because we’ve been in so many, like WNBA ads since then. And they just, they keep repurposing that video. But yeah, I was like, a really big fan. I still am a really big fan of you. I was like,… probably the biggest, happiest person when you broke the record. And whenever I play basketball, I had a braid in. And in my house, we always call it the Kelsey Plum braid. So I’m kind of disappointed that you changed it up, but I’m wearing the bun now.
PLUM: I love it. Well, thank you so much.
PERSLEY: Yes. Well, thank you for coming and being on my show.
PLUM: Of course.
PERSLEY: Awesome. So I am really excited, again, to do this interview. I have 15 questions for you today. If you have any questions for me — if not, we can get right on into the interview.
PLUM: Let’s do it.
PERSLEY: Awesome. I know you’re recovering from an Achilles injury. I recently spoke with Breanna Stewart, and about her recovery. And she spoke of the mental challenges she faced. So how’s it going for you so far?
PLUM: Well, it’s going great. I fortunately have been able to talk to Stewart — Stewie, I guess we could say — about my injury and kind of what she went through and how she’s feeling. So fortunately, we have the same doctor. You know, I’ve been just rehabbing out here in Vegas and doing really well. Trying to stay, you know, patient and, you know, just taking the process on, but it’s going really well. I’ll be back before you know it.
PERSLEY: I know you mentioned you were chatting with Stewie. So what advice have you gotten from her and other athletes who have been dealing with a similar injury?
PLUM: Yeah, I’ve been able to talk to her, I got to talk to Kevin Durant, I’ve gotten to talk to other people kind of outside of the basketball community that have torn their Achilles. And I think the common thread is stay patient, stay very diligent with your rehab, and just just try to enjoy it as much as you can, in terms of, you know, a lot of times in life, we don’t get an opportunity to, you know, take some time and kind of de-stress and repurpose our value system, what’s important to us. And so for me, I think … that advice that I’ve gotten, I’ve tried to take that in and just really, you know, take a second and enjoy my life a little bit. So it’s been really good for me.
PERSLEY: Yeah, well, I could tell you were having fun when you were doing an introduction for the Aces, which was really awesome and amazing to watch. And how — other than that, how have you been able to stay connected with Aces?
PLUM: Wow, well, obviously, I watch all the games we’re playing. So I’m super excited about that. That’s a big game versus LA. I think for me, I talk to my teammates, you know, a couple times a week. We actually have a group chat that I stay updated in, FaceTime, things like that. But I’m always sending love, always sending encouragement, whether that’s through text, calls, or, you know, social media. So, you saw the player intros. I tried to stay up to date with that, but they’re great. I’m so proud of them. They’ve been playing unbelievable.
PERSLEY: Yes. Second place. Really impressive. To continue with the topic of the WNBA season. What are your thoughts on the WNBA’s dedication to Say Her Name and social justice?
PLUM: I’m really proud to be part of a league that cares about not just people, but cares about women, cares about Black women. I think it’s super empowering that we have a league made up of over 80% Black women. And so we represent them, and we really — I think the league has taken upon it to kind of push the envelope. You know, there’s other leagues that have done some things, but I’m really proud to be part of a league that’s leading the charge in that. We’re very unified, and so, you know, I think that there are people that are leading this movement with our presidents, you know, we got Sue Bird, Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike. Obviously, Tasha Cloud is someone that’s been leading the movement outside of the league — or excuse me, outside of the bubble. So it’s been really cool to watch and just to, you know, follow. And I think it’s important that sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow, and that’s okay.
PERSLEY: Yeah. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. So, one more question about activism for you. How are you serving as an ally during the season of social activism?
PLUM: I think for me, I’ve really tried to take my platform — obviously being able to play in the WNBA, being able to have teammates, you know, friends, colleagues, peers, and things like that. You know, because I’m white, my perspective is different. And so I think my job is to maybe touch other people that don’t get the same experience that I do. So my white friends, white family members, we can have conversations. And really, I can try to gain, or help them gain a perspective that they wouldn’t have, because of my ability to be able to play in the WNBA. So I think for me, it’s kind of being able to be in rooms that some of my peers aren’t and being able to try and touch some people that maybe wouldn’t understand the perspective if I didn’t get this opportunity.
PERSLEY: Hmm. I know, so many people are talking about, if you touch one person, it really does make a difference. I still remember watching your remarkable 57-point performance against Colorado to break the NCAA scoring record. Can you share what was going on inside your head during that game?
PLUM: Well, actually, I was pretty sick. So I think for me, I was just trying to make it to the next timeout because I was not feeling well. I had lost my voice, I was eating applesauce during timeouts to just give me energy. But for me, I think it was a great moment. Obviously, I got to do it on senior night with all my friends and family there. So that’s pretty special, that’s pretty special.
PERSLEY: Definitely special. I remember I didn’t have one of your jerseys, and I really wanted one. So we DIY’d one and like, used a purple marker to write all, like, the Washington and your number on the back of the jersey, which was really awesome. [PLUM: I love this.] That was our celebration of that game. There are a lot of expectations that come with being the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball history and the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. So how have you dealt with those expectations?
PLUM: It’s tough. I think people, like you said, the key word is expectations. People have expectations that are probably not fair. They’re probably a little bit too big. But hey, you know, we can’t really control what other people think and say about us, but what we can control is what we do, and our effort. You know, how I handle it. So I think for me, it’s been a great learning experience. I’ve learned a ton from a lot of those things that I’ve been able to go through. And I think it’s gonna make me a better woman and a better person.
PERSLEY: Dealing with the expectations is definitely something that comes with being a professional athlete. And it’s really amazing to hear from you about that. Basketball fans know you, of course, know you as the NCAA women’s basketball leader in scoring. But I know your game has changed since joining the WNBA. So how has your game evolved since your days in Washington?
PLUM: I think the base asset of my game that’s changed is defensively. I think for me, that was not really a focus when I was in college, and now playing in the WNBA and playing on the Aces, you know, we really pay attention to the defensive end of the ball and we take pride in that. And so for me, I’ve really tried to take that upon myself to kind of be the spearhead in pressure and, you know, run-and-gun, a lot of turnovers, things like that. Or creating a lot of turnovers, excuse me. So I think for me, that’s the biggest asset that has changed.
PERSLEY: The defensive end, because as I mentioned, people know you as an offensive player and an amazing scorer, but the defense is so important as well. How are you feeling about being reunited with Chantel [Osahor] and Coach Neighbors as a graduate assistant for Arkansas women’s basketball?
PLUM: I mean, what an opportunity. How exciting is that? A lot of times you don’t get to go full-circle and go back and work with your friends. You know, coach under Coach Neighbors — I’m not really coaching, I’m assisting — but I’m very excited about this opportunity. I think it’s a great way to gain an education, you know, a master’s degree as well as learning just a ton about, you know, the ins and outs of the college game. It’s different when you’re on the bench not in a uniform versus playing. I think you learn different things and maybe see different things you wouldn’t have. So, for me, I’m just excited to learn.
PERSLEY: The learning experience. So awesome. And what are your responsibilities as a coach?
PLUM: Well, a little bit unique because of COVID. And this whole season, there’s some undecided things, right? We don’t really know when we’re gonna play or where we’re gonna play. So I think, traditionally — I’ll answer this question as, you know, a grad assistant is someone that basically just fills in where they’re needed in terms of helping the players, helping coaches with, I don’t know, anything from film to, you know, learning about recruits, and things like that. For me, I think Coach wanted me in this position because I can help some of his players, maybe give them some insight onto what it’s like to play at the professional level. Not only that, but also some of my experiences in college, just being a student-athlete and dealing with some of the, you know, social media or whatever kind of ups and downs that they’re going through, they can be — I’m a resource for them to lean on. So, for me, I’m really excited to be able to build relationships with, you know, our players, and, you know, just help them grow.
PERSLEY: So awesome. I mean, we don’t see a lot of player-coaches in the WNBA, it’s pretty amazing to be interviewing one. WNBA players inspire so many people, and for you — especially people like me — but who inspires you, Kelsey?
PLUM: Hmm, I take a lot of inspiration from my family. I really am super grateful that I have such a supportive family. My mom has been so influential in my career. Obviously, she’s really big right now helping me rehab an Achilles. But I think not only that, my older sister Lauren, is someone that I’ve always looked up to professionally and personally. And then, you know, basketball-wise, my favorite player’s been Diana Taurasi, and I don’t think that’s changed. So I really — I look up to a lot of different women in my life. And I’m very grateful that they’ve always been great role models for me.
PERSLEY: And I think we were actually featured in a video where you talked about how you looked up to Diana Taurasi, and how it was amazing to be able to play against her. But can you give a little bit more detail onto playing against your role model?
PLUM: Yeah, I think, you know, the first time we got the opportunity to suit up against her, we were in a game. And I just got chills, you know, because my entire basketball life has been trying to get to that point of where she’s at. So now that I was there, it was kind of one of those things where it’s just surreal, you know? Just can’t really put it into words. It’s one of those out-of-body experiences. But I think for me, what was even cooler than that is that when I met her, she could have been kind of mean, or standoffish, but she was so inclusive. She was so loving. She was like, “Plum-er! How are you doing?” So I just thought that was like, the coolest thing, right? Because I think we meet people and we’re not really sure what to expect. But she was more than I expected.
PERSLEY: More than you expected. Well, I remember holding up my sign to try to meet you and I was not at all expecting for you to ask me to sign your hand. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah, I was so happy that day. I know I’ve asked you this before, but your answer may have well have changed my life. So what’s the best piece of advice you would give to a young girl who wants to play in the WNBA?
PLUM: Wow. The best advice, I think — probably similar to what I said to you is just listen to your parents, stay super-diligent, super-disciplined on your schoolwork, and whatever you want to do, go after it. Like, attack it and just have fun. I think it’s super important to enjoy what you’re doing and to be super passionate about it. And I mean, it’s amazing to hear you interview me right now because I can tell you’re absolutely brilliant. And I don’t know if you want to do this professionally, but you got my vote, so keep going.
PERSLEY: Thank you! Actually, I have, like, a dream of playing the WNBA and then being a play-by-play analyst for the league and a journalist for the league.
PLUM: I love it.
PERSLEY: I’ve been asking this question of a lot of WNBA players, and they often talk about the moment that they realized it was no longer college. So what was your quote-unquote “welcome to the WNBA” moment?
PLUM: Haha! My “welcome to the WNBA” moment. I have a couple. I probably would say — I went in for, it was my first game back, I was hurt, remember, I came back against Dallas. And I drove to the basket and I went to the rim and the same refs that reffed me in college were reffing that game. And I got, you know, I got bumped and I went in and I just got blocked. And I looked at the ref, and he said, “Kiddo, it’s not college anymore.” And I quickly realized he was very right. So for me, I think it was that moment. And there’s been a couple other ones, but that one stands out.
PERSLEY: Wow, having the same ref in college. That must have like, felt a little good to know somebody out there. And last few questions for you. Can you take us through the process of when you broadcasted the Washington Huskies-Arizona State Sun Devils game?
PLUM: It was so much fun. I didn’t understand how hard it was going to be. I thought it was going to be very straightforward. You know, you have a mic on, I’m doing the play-by — or excuse me, I’m doing the color. My colleague’s doing the play-by-play. So all I have to do is, you know, talk about the game, but the game is fast. There are so many different breaks, we come in and out of commercial. I have a director in my head talking to me as I’m trying to speak. I felt so, like, just ghosted, like, “what’s happening?” but, what a great experience for me. I learned a ton. Thank you, Pac-12 Network again for having me, and hopefully I’ll get to do more of those. But to be able to be an alumni and you know, talk about your own game on TV, you know, some of my friends are playing — it was just surreal.
PERSLEY: You answered one of my questions about would you want to do this again … throughout your career, but I still have one more question for you about this.What was it like for you to call a game for your old team?
PLUM: Hmm. Well, I got in trouble because I was celebrating as shots were being made. I actually — two I remember. One of the Huskies was shooting a free throw, and it was it was a close game, and I said, we really gotta make this free throw. And then I realized the Huskies need to make this free throw. So, you know, I can’t be on their team. But I just thought it was one of those experiences that you just remember, you know? And there was a lot of people watching, supporting me, there was a lot of hype around the game. So no pressure, but it was a ton of fun. And I’d love to do it again, to answer your question.
PERSLEY: Well, I can’t wait to watch you do it again, hopefully. And one last question for you. After hearing your introduction of the Aces, I feel like I need an introduction for my podcast. So would you do an introduction for “She Got Next”?
PLUM: I would love to do an intro! Okay, wait, really quick, how tall are you?
PERSLEY: I’m 4’4″, 4’5″. Yeah, let’s do it.
PLUM: What city are you — well, would you rather be talked about where you are or where you were born? Or is it the same?
PERSLEY: It’s the same. I’m in New York.
PLUM: Okay, ready? Tell me when you’re ready.
PERSLEY: I’m ready.
PLUM: Starting at point guard, 4’4″ from New York City. “She Got Game” podcast number —
PLUM: Number two? Number two, shout out, Pepper! Woo!
PERSLEY: That was awesome. Thank you so much for that. I mean, I feel like that’s gonna make my podcast even more popular. That was — thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you for being on that show. Thank you for that awesome introduction. I’m gonna have to use that for everything now. I wonder if I can make that my ringtone. But yes, thank you so much for doing my show.
PLUM: Thank you for having me. Have a great day. You did great.
PERSLEY: Bye. And can you tell the Aces good luck?
PLUM: I will, I will, I’ll tell them good luck right now.
PERSLEY: Big thank you to Kelsey Plum and the Las Vegas Aces for making that interview happen. I really enjoyed speaking with her. Please tune in to the next episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. And also, please subscribe to The Next so you can hear awesome podcasts like this one. As always, you can find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper. Thank you all for tuning in.