September 11, 2020 

WNBA’s Kelsey Plum heads to Arkansas as graduate assistant

Reuniting with Chantel Osahor, Mike Neighbors

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“I don’t know what she told you. Don’t let her tell you, Dorothy, that I wasn’t a big part of her coming,” Chantel Osahor said with a hearty laugh over the phone. “Don’t let her tell you it’s not true because it’s absolutely true.”

Osahor, the assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Arkansas, spoke with giddiness about WNBA star Kelsey Plum, her close friend and college teammate. The two will be reunited this fall when Plum joins the staff of the Arkansas women’s basketball program as a graduate assistant.

“That’s one of the best things about this,” Plum said. “With our relationship it’s been tough the last couple of years; we’ve been all over the place in different countries, different states, now to be able to be back in one place and see each other on a daily basis is really special. 

“She’s one of my close friends,” the Las Vegas Aces star continued. “That’s a lifelong friendship that I cherish and I’m grateful that I get to have her in my life more consistently now, too.”

Joining in Plum’s and Osahor’s reunion will be Arkansas Head Coach Mike Neighbors, who coached them both at the University of Washington. Plum helped the University of Washington qualify for the NCAA Tournament three times, including trips to the 2016 Final Four and 2017 Sweet Sixteen. She becomes the third member of Neighbors’ staff to play on a Final Four team. Osahor and former graduate assistant Heather Corral also reached the Final Four in their playing careers.

“It’s rewarding. I’m proud and honored that Kelsey and Chantel both are here,” Neighbors said. “After playing with someone for four years, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. We had our little break.

“They taught me a lot more about being a coach than I ever taught them about being players,” Neighbors continued. “They were freshman my freshman year so we kind of had that little bit of a bond that will always be different with any of the other players I have had.  Someone said ‘oh, you’re getting the band back together?’ I said yeah, as much of that experience that we can share with this group here and future groups, the better.”

Added Osahor: “We’re back together again. It’s something I don’t take for granted for sure.”

In her role as graduate assistant, Plum will assist current and future student-athletes with professional player transition and she’ll be responsible for  preparing players for their transition from life as Division I athletes to life as professionals, whether on the court or in another chosen career path. 

“I am so excited to be back with Neighbors; we’ve had a great relationship and he’s always looked out for me and he’s always wanted the best for me,” Plum said. “I’m super-grateful for the opportunity and excited about where it goes.”

Basketball isn’t all Plum will be doing at Arkansas. She started classes last week toward a master’s degree in human resource and developmental education. 

“I just want to learn. I want my brain to be stimulated,” said Plum, who sat out the WNBA season rehabbing from an Achilles injury. “I want to try different experiences so I thought for me what a better way to be able to go back to school and figure out what I want to do, so when this position came open he called me right away.”

Neighbors, who’s coached the Razorbacks — his Alma Mater — since 2017, said reuniting with Plum has always been in his mind. He recalls telling both her and Osahor, ‘I’m going to call you every year until the timing works out.’”

This year he went to Vegas and gave Plum a ‘three-day pitch” on what it could be like with her on staff.

“With the timing of her injury, COVID, the Bubble, the Olympics being moved, Kelsey thinking about getting her master’s degree; it was all just perfect timing,” Neighbors said.

“I was going to keep asking until I got a yes. When I sit in the homes of recruits and future players and we tell them we’re going to surround them with great people — you’ve gotta back that up and this is that evidence,” he continued. “It’s all worked out great.” 

Plum plans to bring energy and what she calls “a different type of work ethic” to her role with the student-athletes at Arkansas, while also serving as a mentor and resource.

“They can pick my brain about anything whether that is basketball related, non-basketball related, anything,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve been able to travel the world and go through a lot of things and experience a lot of different situations. They can ask me about playing overseas, about playing for the WNBA, they can ask me about sponsorships, social media, being a student-athlete, whatever it is, I’m here for them as a resource.”

Plum has plenty to offer the student-athletes, Osahor said of her friend she calls “family,” and looks forward to a tag-team tandem on campus.

“With her coming in here — they’ll see she did it at a high level in college, high level in the pros — and hopefully she can get their ears and eyes and they’ll listen to what she has to say,” Osahor said. “She has a lot to offer.

“They’ll see the way we communicated when we were teammates, the way we did things on and off the floor that really mattered and we still have that obviously,” she continued. “They’ll see that, what it takes to be a pro, how to take care of your body, how to be engaged and more.”

Plum knows her new role will also put on display her influence as a role model.

“I think that when God gives you certain opportunities, you have a responsibility to put your best foot forward and give it your ‘A’ effort,” she said. “Your character is super important and it goes  with you everywhere in life so I feel I have a responsibility.” 

Plum swept all 10 of college basketball’s national player of the year awards in 2017. The Poway, California native still holds the NCAA record for most points scored in a career, finishing with 3,527 points. She was selected No. 1 Overall in the 2017 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Stars, who relocated to Las Vegas the following year.

She also played professionally overseas, joining Fenerbahce in 2017-18 and playing two seasons with the team, helping win back-to-back Turkish League Championships, and the Turkish Cup in 2018-19. Plum is also set to represent the United States in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where she will play in the three-on-three event, and is part of the senior national team player pool.

Additionally, Plum has also made several appearances on television as an analyst for college basketball, doing broadcast work for both the Pac-12 Network and SEC Network.

Now she’s come full circle — right back where she began her storied basketball career. And her close friend and now colleague couldn’t be happier.

“I’m telling you right now, I’m the secret to her taking the job so make sure that’s in there,” Osahor said with obvious joy in her voice, openly thrilled that she’s reunited with Plum once again. 

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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