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Kelsey Plum helps U.S. women's 3x3 basketball team qualify for Olympics, gives glory to God

Right after securing a place in the Tokyo Olympics as a member of the U.S. women’s 3×3 basketball team on Sunday, Kelsey Plum paused for a moment to take it all in before rattling off a list of people she wanted to recognize.

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“I just want to thank a lot of people: God, my mom, my family, my friends,” she said. “I want to thank USA Basketball. They could’ve quit on me. They could’ve said, ‘We’re going to bring somebody else,’ and they didn’t. I’m just super grateful to my teammates, I mean, man, this was a battle.”

Plum, along with fellow WNBA players Katie Lou Samuelson, Stefanie Dolson and Allisha Gray, defeated Spain, 21-13, in the semifinals of the qualifying tournament to guarantee a spot in this summer’s Olympics.

The 12-second shot clock and different scoring system took some getting used to for Plum. Shots inside the arc are worth one point and traditional 3-pointers are worth two. The winner is the first team to 21 or whoever is ahead after 10 minutes.

“Three-on-three is a little bit different,” Plum said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast last year. “It has different rules, you play with a different ball, it’s a different pace of a game. It’s been interesting flip-flopping between the two.”

While 3×3 is making its Olympic debut, 5×5 basketball is certainly more familiar to Plum, and she’s also in the pool of players who could represent the U.S. in that event in Tokyo. The all-time leading scorer in Division I women’s basketball history, Plum was taken first overall out of Washington in the 2017 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Silver Stars. The team relocated after her rookie season and became the Las Vegas Aces.

Adjusting to the professional game while dealing with the lofty expectations placed upon her was a challenge for Plum. All of a sudden, success wasn’t coming as easily and the awards weren’t piling up.

“I kind of had to go through life and figure out what’s important,” she said in a 2019 Sports Spectrum Magazine feature with Aces teammate A’ja Wilson. “It takes a lot of failure and mistakes and humility to be able to see that I need a relationship with God.”

Her breakout moment came in the 2019 WNBA playoffs, when she averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 assists in Las Vegas’ five games. Then adversity struck again.

While playing 3×3 basketball in preparation for Olympic qualifying in June 2020, Plum tore her Achilles. The injury forced her to miss the entire 2020 WNBA season and put her Olympic dreams in doubt.

She played in her first WNBA game since the 2019 postseason on May 15, scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists in a loss to the defending-champion Seattle Storm. Plum appeared in one more game before heading off to Austria for the qualifying tournament.

The trials the 26-year-old has endured have helped her realize her identity is not in basketball, and make sure the sport doesn’t define her. She sees God at work in her journey and wants to share His love with others.

“I’m super grateful because I think that He’s always really been very precise about exactly where He wanted me to be and He’s put certain people in my life to really help me,” Plum said on the podcast. “I’m just super grateful, so I think for me, as I continue to grow into a woman and a woman of faith, I try to make sure that I’m a light.”

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