Kelsey Plum arrived at her postgame press conference as an Olympic champion. She looked the part: A celebratory grin on her face, a gold medal around her neck, a bottle of champagne in her left hand.
And a genuine sense of appreciation for the magnitude of the moment.
“An Olympic gold medal is something that I’ve always wanted to accomplish,” said the Aces guard. “I think coming off the Achilles (injury) makes it extra sweet.”
Plum on Wednesday morning helped power the American team to an 18-15 victory over the Russian Olympic Committee team in the inaugural 3-on-3 Olympic championship game in Tokyo. Las Vegas teammate Jackie Young shared in the glory, as did Chicago Sky center Stefanie Dolson and Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray.
The 26-year-old Plum scored a team-high 55 points over nine games, all but one of which were American victories. She punctuated her play with five crucial points in the championship game, spurring an early lead the United States would not relinquish.
“I would say it’s the highest (point of my career),” Plum said.
Plum actually tore her Achilles tendon last summer while playing 3-on-3 basketball, making the victory over the Russian Olympic Committee all the more special. She shared that she walked after surgery for the first time a year ago Wednesday, calling it “really cool” and “nostalgic” while detailing how she drew inspiration from Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who tore her Achilles in 2019 but returned in 2020 to win the WNBA championship and Finals MVP.
“I just had a lot of faith in the process,” Plum said. “I really was grateful I had someone that kind of paved the way for me.”
Young trained last year with USA Basketball’s 3-on-3 program, but was left off the initial roster — allowing her to vacation in Florida during the WNBA’s Olympic break.
Or so she thought.
Storm forward Katie Lou Samuelson tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was forced to withdraw from the Olympics, opening a roster spot for Young, who received a phone call from USA Basketball and promptly traveled to Tokyo to take Samuelson’s place.
Her transition was seamless. Dolson said that Young “just came in ready. She knew the plays. She was focused.” She scored 18 points during the nine-game slate and was a disruptive defender.
“It’s crazy, honestly,” Young said. “I really just tried to catch on quick…so that I could get thrown in the mix without messing up the chemistry.”
Young hails from Princeton, Indiana, where the population of 8,684 honored her with a parade after her Notre Dame team won the 2018 national championship. She said she thinks there may be another parade, noting that city officials had mentioned the possibility to her mother.
“I was once that little girl who looked up to Olympians,” she said. “Now I am an Olympian.”
Not just any Olympian, either. An Olympic gold medalist.