Kelsey Plum, also known as Plum Dawg, finished third in WNBA MVP voting in 2022. When you’re Top 3 in a league, you’re a megastar, and it’s fitting that Plum is now giving back to the next generation of top WNBA prospects, because she knows it wasn’t easy to reach her 2022 level of success.
On Wednesday, Plum, in collaboration with Under Armour, announced the April launch of the inaugural Dawg Class, a program allowing nine of the top NCAAW guards to be mentored by Plum on and off the court at IMG Academy in Bradenton Florida. Plum’s goal is to make this program a household name, so that it increases the visibility of the nine athletes, and to provide the resources that these women need to make a smooth transition into the WNBA.
The reason visibility is so important is that, according to Women In Sport, lack of media coverage discourages girls aged 11 to 21 from pursuing a future in sports because they believe it leads to them being treated unfairly.
The reason the resources are so important is that the pressure to perform in the pros poses a huge challenge. As a No. 1 overall pick (2017), Plum knows that all too well. For her, it caused depression and suicidal thoughts, things she also dealt with in college while chasing the NCAAW all-time scoring record, which she attained and still holds at 3,527 points. Mental health affects everyone, and Plum is determined to make sure nobody else goes through what she went through.
“We need to talk about (mental health),” she said. “(Depression) something that’s an epidemic in our country, specifically with young women. And when you’re in college and you’re performing at a high level and you transition to the pros, that transition is not easy. And I had expectations that weren’t met, and then therefore it kinda dug deep into my lack of self-worth and identity. So the whole point of this is me trying to help these young women not have to go through some of the struggles that I went through, with some of the skills that I have now that I didn’t have then.
“I’m as healthy mentally as I’ve ever been, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve performed the way that I have. We’re bringing one of my mental performance coaches to camp. And that’s one of the biggest parts of camp in terms of some of the skills that we’ll talk about and work on, that not just help in performance in basketball, but really elevate your quality of life.”
Interview: Kelsey Plum talks about overcoming her mental health struggles
Plum said it’s very difficult to adjust from being drafted to reporting to training camp for your WNBA team four or five days later. She said she wishes she had known more about how the WNBA works, how to take care of her body better and physically what she needed to do to prepare for the next level. She will now be the resource providing the information on those things.
You can also be sure that part of how Plum helps the prospects will be by sharing the strength she’s drawn from her own personality. She’s going to teach them how to lead with grit, drive and passion; in other words, a “dawg mentality.”
“Anyone can have this dawg mentality,” she said. “It’s about creating an internal confidence and drive that sustains you through the good times and the bad. I want to invite people to learn this mentality so they always feel supported, even when they’re flying solo.”
For Plum, Under Armour, the brand she signed with in November of 2022, was the perfect partner to help bring Dawg Class to life.
“We’re proud to be with Under Armour partnering with this because they believe in the vision of women,” Plum said. “And that’s one of the reasons that I decided to sign with UA, the vision they had for investing in young women. They’re really putting their money where their mouth is. When I signed, this was something that I really, really pushed for. And I’m grateful that we’re doing it and we’re doing it as big as we’re doing it.”
“Both Under Armour and Kelsey believe that creating equity in sport sometimes means developing a path that today may not exist,” said Charece Williams Gee, senior director of Americas Sports Marketing at Under Armour. “We created the Dawg Class academy because it is what women athletes deserve. Kelsey’s resilience and never-give-up mentality makes her the perfect advocate to create the waves needed for change that will span generations.”
Plum has worked as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network, so she’s kept up with the college game since graduating from the University of Washington. To be giving back to the NCAAW star guards who are now following in her footsteps means a lot to her.
“I’m proud to try to be the first one to take a swing at this,” she said. “I know it’s pretty bold. But I do think it’s such a missing piece in our game. And when you talk about being a player and leaving a legacy, you want to be remembered as someone that left the game better than they found it. ... These players, they’re gonna be in a better position than I was when I was their age.”