Kelsey Plum, Under Armour Empower Women’s Hoopers with Dawg Class
After playing in her last college game ever against Mississippi State in the 2017 NCAA Sweet 16, Kelsey Plum didn’t have much time to get ready for the WNBA. She was selected as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft on April 13, and had exactly six days before she had to be in San Antonio. Training camp was scheduled to start on the 23rd, but she still had a lot to do, like flying back to Seattle so she could pack her bags and finish taking classes.
“In reality, looking back now [and] having hindsight, I wasn’t prepared,” Plum tells SLAM over Zoom when asked about her transition from college to the pros. “I wasn’t prepared mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, for the next level.”
The Washington Husky suddenly found herself having to balance her training with all of the other responsibilities that come with now being a professional athlete, like signing with an agent and getting an endorsement deal. “Not to mention, the WNBA itself is like a different sport,” Plum adds. “The wake up call that I had was so brutal.”
The culmination of all of this, specifically the “lack of information and resources” provided to her that could have given Plum, and really any college student-athlete, valuable insight on what to expect at the pro level, played a toll on her mental health. She says it took her “four or five years” to feel more comfortable in the WNBA, and it’s that experience that inspired her to want to empower and support the next generation of women’s college basketball players.
“That’s one of the big reasons why Under Armour and I just meshed,” she says. “I was like, listen this is really important to me. I want to make an impact. I want to be able to leave the game better than I left it. And I felt like this is missing in the women’s game. In the NBA, there’s a lot of help transitioning. From the agency side, from the combine side. These guys are prepped from teenagers all the way to becoming NBA players. And I felt like, you know what? We don’t have that on the women’s side, and why not take a swing at it?”
Plum and UA are launching a first-of-its-kind mentorship program, the Dawg Class, that will give nine women’s basketball players, all personally selected by Plum, the opportunity to participate in a three-day experience and learn directly from the Las Vegas Aces star and WNBA champion. The camp will feature on-court drills meant to help refine their skills, as well as sessions on training and recovery.
Plum knows firsthand how important it is to be physically ready for the WNBA: “We kind of lifted weights in college, but I didn’t know,” she recalls. “Then you get into the League and Sylvia Fowles just gives it a little love tap and you go four feet. And I’m like, Wow, these are grown women. My body is not prepared for this.”
Players will also have the chance to learn more about media training, mental health, finance, nutrition and how to express their personal style. The program is meant to truly prepare them for what’s ahead while giving them all the tools needed to navigate that transition.
“I feel like if we can catch some of these women a little bit earlier, like junior going into senior year or sophomore or freshman, and [give them] a better, full understanding of the process. [Like], what it’s gonna be like, how is Draft night gonna be, how [to] pick your agent or if you already have, what should you be looking for?
[There’s also] a lot of different things mentally. If in college when you miss some shots and you’re not performing at your best, a lot of times you’re the best option that they have. And they’re gonna keep letting you try. Whereas in the pros, there’s an All-American sitting on the bench waiting for you to mess up so they can go in and play great. This is a whole new reality that mentally, a lot of people aren’t prepared for. So a lot of these different things we’re gonna try to attack at camp and just give them a better idea of how a pro trains and how a pro approaches the game.”
The very name of the program is a reflection of what’s important to Plum, from having a dawg-mentality to creating a community that continues to empower female athletes, even after the camp concludes. “I kind of started with this idea of the Dawg Class and the dawg-mentality is really a mentality that anyone can have. It’s a lot bigger than sport, but in particular, just the way you approach life. A lot of times we’re given tough tasks and there’s a lot of hard things to overcome, but having that mentality is showing up every day, consistently ready to attack the day and just not taking no for an answer. And I think that dawg-mentality kind of resonates within me and kind of how I was raised.
I think that there’s a lot of people, particularly women, that share that. And so I’m proud to partner with Under Armour to bring this to the forefront and give other people the opportunity that I didn’t have.”
When asked what advice she’d give the next generation of standouts when it comes to navigating the college landscape today—from the NIL era to social media—Plum harps on that idea of community and building more connection between college players and professional athletes. “It’s kind of hard to sum up in like one little answer, but what I would say is seek advice. I think just because you’re in college right now, if you do have aspirations, you want to play professionally, especially in the WNBA, find someone in the WNBA that you resonate with and seek them out. I had a relationship with Sue Bird, but I should have been a little bit more like, ‘Hey Sue, help me.’ Whether [you are] a little bit timid or you don’t really know if that’s appropriate, I would just say have no fear because they’re gonna be able to tell you the best advice that you need.”
Learn more about the Under Armour Dawg Class here.
Photos via Under Armour.