Fall 2021 SS Magazine

U.S. women win gold in Olympic 3x3 basketball debut, led by 'woman of faith' Kelsey Plum

The U.S. women’s 3×3 basketball team dominated once again Wednesday, and captured the inaugural women’s 3×3 Olympic gold medal with a dominant 18-15 win over the Russian Olympic Committee team at the Tokyo Olympics.

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The score may at first glance seem to be close, but Team USA’s victory appeared evident early in the contest. The Americans never trailed, led 12-5 at one point and held an 18-14 lead before a last-second one-point shot by ROC brought the deficit to three points. The 3×3 tournament tallies the score with one- and two-pointers.

Team USA finished women’s 3×3 competition with eight victories and one loss. The defeat came from Japan in the last game of pool play. The U.S. took down France, 18-16, earlier Wednesday to advance to the gold-medal match.

In the final, the Americans were led by Stephanie Dolson, a post player for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. She led the team with seven points in the final, as well as nine rebounds.

Following Dolson was Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces) with five points. Plum and Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings) led the U.S. women with six points apiece in their semifinal game.

Over all nine contests in the Olympics, Plum led her squad with 55 points. And to think there was a time when she thought she might not be able to compete in Tokyo.

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

But on May 15, she played in her first WNBA game since the 2019 postseason, and then appeared in one more game before heading off to Austria for a 3×3 Olympic qualifying tournament.

Plum thanked God, among others, after the team qualified for the Tokyo Games.

“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.”

The all-time leading scorer in Division I women’s college basketball history, Plum was taken No. 1 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. “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. But then came the torn Achilles last summer.

The trials the 26-year-old has endured have helped her realize her identity is not in basketball, and have made 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 Sports Spectrum Podcast last year. “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.”

Team USA’s victory concludes the first Olympic competition for women’s 3×3 basketball. The traditional five-on-five tournament is ongoing, after which the players will return to the WNBA on Aug. 15 after a month-long hiatus.

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