“I didn’t even drink coffee until I was a pro, and I barely drink it now.”
“Do you drink it with milk or anything like that?”
“It’s just black like my soul.” says Kelsey Plum.
And that’s how the first episode of the new YouTube series, Drip for the Soul, kicks off.
The series is designed by Chris Hansen, Founder of Elite is Earned Basketball and a member of the McDonald’s All-American Selection Committee and the Naismith Trophy Player of the Year panel, who fell in love with women’s basketball as a teenager.
Chris grew up with a similarly aged step-sister, always watching her hoop and running from his practices to hers. Today he jokes all the time that he was a male practice player long before it was fashionable. His first coaching gig was a 6th grade boys team, then the next year he was asked to help with a high school girls team, and he has never looked back.
Years later, as a trained journalist, he and his mentor at ESPN HoopGurlz, Glenn Nelson, won awards for their storytelling. This new series is a move towards telling stories in a more relevant way.
“I’ve been blessed to meet, work with and build relationships with some great women in the sport, and I really wanted that authentic conversation to be shared with more people. With the growth of the game, to allow the players and women in the game to control the narrative is something I find important and something I can facilitate.” he shared.
In the premier episode, Chris takes us behind the scenes with – and into the mind of – an elite hooper, for the candid discussion we’ve all been waiting for — and there’s a sweet pair of custom Nikes to boot.
The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee-vibe of the show can quickly put you at ease enough to forget you’re listening to the 2021 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, 3×3 USA Olympic Gold Medalist, and 2017 WNBA Draft No. 1 pick. Meanwhile, Kelsey Plum might be drinking coffee now, but she brings the tea.
“It always isn’t glamour and glitz. Like you’ve seen me throughout high school and college there was a lot of like (motions to roller coaster of ups and downs with her hands) that people don’t ever talk about. Like we get the highlight reels, but we don’t really get the low points. Of like, I was about to transfer, and I hated my first couple years, it was really hard on me: like the rain – it rained 60 days straight when I was a freshman. I’m from San Diego! It rained 60 days straight!” she explained.
Consider this an invaluable lesson on what it takes to be the best of the best. Kelsey’s rise was anything but easy, and the grind isn’t supposed to be easy.
In the episode, Kelsey shares the mentality behind the get-back after her achilles injury, and how her mom kept it real during her college recruiting process and why that matters. She also goes into the nuances of the overseas contract process many WNBA players face each offseason. And Kelsey reveals whether she’s salty about the new NCAA Name Image Likeness (NIL) rules, how she’d think about it if she were a college hooper today, and so much more.
“Kelsey is an intense competitor, I mean anything that can have a winner and a loser, she’s trying to win. However, she’s an incredibly compassionate person. She picked my niece up from her middle school to take her to lunch for birthday one year. There were no cameras or any publicity for it, she just understands how she can impact people and those in her circle she really takes care of. She has given back to the community without hesitation as long as I’ve known her. I think it’s special when celebrities are down to earth and accessible.” reflected Chris.
Upcoming episodes this season will continue to revolve around women in the sport that have elite DNA. The lineup to look forward to includes players who have found different paths outside of professional hoops, including the media side of the sport as well, as well as a look into coaching.
“This game is so amazing and can take people so many places,” reflected Chris.
We can’t wait to see the places this show will go. Watch here to enjoy the best 18 minutes of your week:
Read the Kelsey Plum interview
Or if you’re more of the reading type or prefer a closed captioning transcript, get the details below.
Setting goals and staying the course
Chris: “People ask about you a lot, especially me being a Seattle guy, and you playing at UW and all that. Like what made you so great? And it’s hard to – watching you work all those years – there has to be something in your DNA that makes you be that committed to what it is you’re doing. So my mindset going into doing my first season of this was elite DNA: people that have it in them… You’ve now gone from elite high school player, elite college player, elite pro player, Olympian, how do you stay that committed? Like there’s got to be something in you and I obviously I’ve had access to see you do your work before, but just has any of that changed. And just being elite – does it get harder? Does it get mundane? What is it about you that keeps you on that path?”
Kelsey: “I think first and foremost you know for me I feel like I’m just scratching the surface in my pro career.”
“And I think this pandemic has really taught me to be present. So when I’m working on my craft I’m right now just focused on being in this moment. Because I know that in order to do what I want to do, I need to be the best I can be in this moment, and win every moment from now on “
“I mean there’s a lot of things that I haven’t done that I want to do. I mean whether that’s Paris 2024, whether that’s world championships next year, whether that’s the WNBA Championship like I want to be an All-Star. I think this year will probably be the best year I’ve ever had playing basketball, and we’re just going to keep building.”
The mindset of success and confidence
Chris: “When you have so much success early on, is it ever hard to just not like ‘I’m really freaking good’ and feel yourself? Like do you ever have to catch yourself in any of those kinds of things? I feel like there’s a little bit of a trap there. ‘Oh I’m a McDonald’s All American, I’m a this, I’m a that.'”
Kelsey: “You know it’s so interesting, I think my family has kept me really humble over the years. Just all the trash that they talk – you already know. But I think as a player I try to tell kids, especially, and players that are moving into either high school or college it’s like: Are you comparing yourself to your peers now? Because if you want to be a pro or you want to be a great college player put yourself in that next category and work your way up. You know what I mean?”
“When I got into college and I was a freshman, I’m not trying to be the best freshman. I’m trying to be the best player. You know, and so I feel like for me to sit here and tell you like ‘Oh I want to be the best player you know in three on three or something like that’ like that doesn’t mean anything. I want to be the best player period.”
“So how can I start to move and broaden the window? And sometimes I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I’ve made goals and I’m like ‘Wow that’s really lofty. I should probably come back a little bit.’ you know what I mean? But I feel like it’s a lot better to go that way than to toot your own horn. Because we all know, when you get prideful and arrogant, people, this game is so humbling. One injury and you’re sitting down on your couch with your leg up. I think you can’t get too caught up in how good you are.”
“My dad has always been like you’re your best advocate. So that chip comes from the confidence. I really do, every time I enter a competition with you, I genuinely think I’m going to win. I don’t care what we’re doing, I’m going to win.”
Recovering from a torn Achilles tendon
Chris: “It feels like because of the pandemic we didn’t see everything you were going through, but you just came out like, you’re not supposed to come back like that! It feels like the fan in us thinks ‘Oh it’s going to be really hard and it’s going to be all this,’ and of course, you’re doing the hard stuff. But we’re supposed to witness it. It’s supposed to take you two or three seasons to get right. And then you just come crushing out of it! How many days were there where it’s just like: today this is enough but if I do a little more I’m going to get back sooner?”
Kelsey: “I think when I tore my achilles, I was actually here in Portland, and I went to my friend’s house. I was in the bathroom, I was in the shower, and I remember crying. And I was crying because I was angry. But I was also like OK this is the last time you’re allowed to cry because for the next nine months. Because I was like ‘When do you come back from an achilles from 12? All right let’s do it in nine.’ I have to put all my energy, focus, mental, emotional capacity into these next nine months. And if I spend any time complaining, feeling sorry for myself, being a victim. I’m going to lose out. This is an Olympic medal on the line. I’m going to lose out. And so I literally had a conversation with myself that was like all right, we’re going to do this, you’re going to be the joy and spark plug in all of this.”
Chris: “You made that decision one time and it was a wrap?”
Kelsey: “Yeah because I knew if I spent any time dabbling in the ‘Oh today’s not a good day’ that’s a day wasted, and I don’t have that time.”
Chris: “What were the main things you gave up?”
Kelsey: “I didn’t do a ton of social. I did when I needed to but I kind of got off of that. I didn’t really watch a ton of shows. I mean it was in the middle of a pandemic, and so I really tried to spend my ounces of time – I would ask myself ‘OK is this helping me get back?’ – and if it’s not, it’s not for me. I was super diligent the way I ate, and the difference is in the details. I’ve learned that. The difference between someone like a Sue Bird and then someone that’s like a good point guard in the league, she does this much more better, more focused, more intently, and it makes a huge difference.”
Getting drafted to San Antonio Stars
Chris: “How do you manage those expectations is what I would really love to understand? Because there’s one person in each class that can know what you went through, and have those expectations. And then to have the drama that went with it – that was really odd to me. I’ve never really seen that in professional sports where half the organization wants one person and half wants the other. How do you not let that derail you or how did that not get you?”
Kelsey: “Before I answer I’d like to hear your thoughts on it. You were there my entire journey in college, and then you saw: what do you think?”
Chris: “I mean the (Seattle) Seahawks aren’t drafting quarterbacks every year, they got Russell Wilson. You draft Russell Wilson when you need him, so that kind of struck me because there might be people that don’t watch women’s sports but for those of us that see this is the highest level of women’s professional sports we have for basketball – you cant screw up that pick. Get with it, get with the program. I was almost offended for you that there would be that cloud.”
Kelsey: “It was brutal. I mean to answer your first question, I didn’t handle it. That’s why I think the transition was so hard for me. And there was such a big gap. I remember people would be like ‘Dang I miss watching Kelsey play,’ because that’s not who was playing for San Antonio. And it was really hard for me because you go from – like you said – playing that type of basketball with that type of expectations, going into the best league in the world with the best players and best athletes. In order to be success there needs to be two-fold: one the player needs to be ready; but two, there needs to be a structure that allows a player to succeed. Because there was no structure for me. I was set up to fail. And I failed miserably.”
“But I will say this, looking back on it now I’m like I had to go through all that. I had to change how I played the game. Change how I saw myself in the game. Change my skill set. I mean come on, coming out of college I probably couldn’t defend my shadow, didn’t know how to actually run a team like I thought my running a team was scoring forty. There’s certain little nuances and aspects of playing winning basketball and doing it the right way that I had no idea coming in.”
Her take on the new NCAA Name Image Likeness (NIL) rules
Chris: “A lot of this progress in sports where it’s empowering the players but do you think it’s also creating some shortcuts that doesn’t lead you to the toughness you need, it doesn’t lead you find a way, it leads you to change course?”
Kelsey: “So you’re basically asking me am I salty that the NIL wasn’t there when I was in college?…Because yes I am salty.”
Chris: “Do you think it would have been a distraction though? Because that’s a different goal, it’s not about taking a program that was not Final Four caliber, it’s not about winning lots of games and scoring lots of points.”
Kelsey: “I think to the athlete, you have to ask yourself what’s most important? What’s the goal? For some people the goal is to make money, put myself out there, I want to be popular. Great. If that’s your goal go to a place that can help you do that, and get the deals you want to do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
“I think that if you’re like ‘I want to win and I want to play pro’ then position yourself at a program and in a place, to do that. And maybe you’re that good, that the deals come in – like a Paige (Bueckers) – because of basketball. Like you’re that good and then everything else kind of happens with it. I just think a lot of times people aren’t honest with themselves.”
“And I think more importantly, parents aren’t honest with their kids in relation to that. And I think you have to ask yourself – one of the things I appreciated about my mom so much in my recruiting process was she was very honest. She’s like initially when I was a sophomore we’re looking at – you know when you’re a sophomore you’re looking at everyone – she’s like ‘Listen Notre Dame, you’re number three on their list. So let’s cross that off. You know let’s move somewhere forward’ and so she’s just like ‘They’ve already taken someone, they’ve offered somebody else, and you haven’t had an offer yet, you’re number three.'”
“Just like, let’s be strategic about this, and so it’s very easy to get caught up in like hype and what this person’s saying, what this person’s saying. But if you look at it on paper, and you look at what’s actually going on. I think it’s a little bit more helpful to the player. So I would hope parents could be a little bit more realistic…”
Coming off the bench
Kelsey: “You don’t realize a lot of things that you learn about coming off the bench, and the mindset of someone coming off the bench versus someone that starts. And the compassion and empathy you have for someone coming off the bench ,and how hard that is versus someone that starts – it’s just two different worlds.”
“For example, you come off the bench, you play like crap, it’s your fault that you’re down at half time or etc. You know what I’m saying? You’re mad at the bench player for not knowing what she’s doing, or someone gets two quick fouls and you have to go in and guard someone that you probably weren’t supposed to guard or whatever. You basically have to be super flexible and just kind of go with it. Maybe someone is super hot. And you have to sub in and you’re playing D, you’re running the floor, you’re getting them the ball. Maybe no one’s hot and you have to come in and be hot.”
“So for me I was just like you know what, this is a great opportunity to learn, I can’t complain about this. This is what it is and I’m going to make the most of it. And I did, and I will never do it again. I will never do that again, period.”
WNBA players playing overseas
Kelsey: “I wish we could find a way to not have to go in the same capacity that we have to go overseas. It’s a tough situation, and I know why people stay and I know why people go.”
Chris: “Does location matter? Is it just about role and getting the contracts to fit so you get the right number of reps? How does that all work? Because I don’t think people really understand that aren’t in it.”
Kelsey: “So basically how it works is you play your W season, throughout your agent will hit you ‘Hey we’re getting an offer from this team – an offer would be this amount of money to go for this amount of months, you’d probably be playing with this other American or this European.'”
“So you get offers throughout the year and you can either if you accept them great, decline them great, and sometimes you and your agent can talk about ‘I need a little bit more money to be able to say yes to that.’ and you negotiate. There are times, too, where it’s like say we’re competing for a contract, I ask for a little bit more, and they’re like we’ll take Chris. It’s like OK I lost out. It happens, it’s happened to me before. Or also basically they can offer both of us and you take it first. That’s just a reality. That’s with a lot of different businesses.”
“Overseas there’s usually a triangle: location, money, good basketball. It’s really hard to find all three. So usually you have to ask yourself, what’s your priority? Do you want money and good basketball, poor location? Poor location meaning it’s negative 30…So a lot of times, there’s no wrong answer, it’s just kind of your preference on what you want and you kind of go from there based on your choices.”
Chris: “So what’s your triangle look like?”
“I would say good basketball and money…I’ll freeze my butt off for a bag.”
Stay tuned to the Drip for the Soul Series
Up next, learn more about Kelsey’s Las Vegas Aces teammate, A’ja Wilson.
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