Kat Wright, Sam Thomas, and Lucia Alon≠≠so spent one of their last free weekends inside the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, shooting.
The UA women’s basketball players had a little extra incentive. Kelsey Plum, the former Washington star and the No. 1 pick in this year’s WNBA draft, practiced in the same gym three times a day the week before.
Why did Plum, a Husky to her core, pick Tucson and the UA?
It all comes down to her connection with Adia Barnes, who recruited and coached Plum at Washington before being named the Wildcats’ head coach. Arizona assistant coach Morgan Valley was also at UW when Plum first became the Pac-12’s scoring sensation.
“This is a great place for Kelsey,” Barnes said. “We have incredible facilities, and it feels like home as we’re here.”
Plum didn’t just practice all week; she also spoke to the team.
During the course of two hours, Plum shared her story and what it means to have a solid work ethic. In four years at Washington, Plum scored an NCAA-record 3,527 points and set the single-season scoring mark with 1,109 points. She collected the Naismith Award, AP, USBWA, and ESPNW Player of the Year awards and Pac-12 Player of the Year honor, among others, before being taken first by the San Antonio Stars.
“She’s proof that you can’t cheat the process,” said freshman guard Sammy Fatkin. “It motivated us to get in the gym more.”
It’s a good thing, too: Barnes and her staff challenged each player to make 3,000 shots before Sunday’s opening practice.
“Kelsey put the fire under all of us,” said freshman guard Marlee Kyles. “She trusts our coaches and it showed us we should, too. We are in good hands if she is here.”
Plum’s visit is part of Barnes’ plan to bring as many talented players into town as possible. She wants Arizona to feel like home to not only ex-Wildcats, but friends like former Washington standout Chantel Osahor and Seattle Storm star Sue Bird and former UA coach Joan Bonvicini. When Plum was at Washington, she watched men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar — now a UA assistant — do the same.
“He had all the NBA guys come visit,” Barnes said. “That’s the kind of culture I am creating here.”
While in Tucson, Plum reinforced the importance of having your teammates’ backs. The Wildcats began bonding earlier this summer, when four incoming freshmen — Kyles, Fatkin, Thomas and Kiana Chew — joined Wright to work out.
Freshmen weren’t the only Wildcats impressed with Plum. Senior forward JaLea Bennett played against Plum, and said she saw something unexpected: The Washington star was wearing an Arizona T-shirt.
“There is coach’s quote: Red, white and blue looks good on you,” said Bennett, the Wildcats’ lone senior. “I thought it looked a lot better than purple and gold.”