The athlete has average size, but uncommon talent.
The athlete, despite not winning the genetic lottery, builds one of the richest legacies in college basketball. Over their four years, nobody scored as many points.
Basketball fans would undoubtedly remember that athlete for years.
Twenty years from now, I hope we still remember Kelsey Plum.
Plum’s recently completed career at the University of Washington should go down as one of the top individual accomplishments in Northwest sports.
Over four years, the 5-foot-8 guard scored 3,527 points. That broke the NCAA record of 3,393 scored by Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State from 1997-2001.
Plum career is not simply 134 points greater than Stiles. She played in an era of more top-to-bottom talent in women’s basketball and in a tougher conference. This year, five Pac-12 teams advanced to the Sweet 16 after four went that far last year.
That women’s college basketball doesn’t command the same spotlight as the men’s game shouldn’t diminish what Plum achieved.
In Northwest sports lore, Ichiro Suzuki’s single-season hits record holds a cherished place. So does Steve Largent setting all major NFL receiving records by the time he ended a 14-year career with the Seattle Seahawks. Ashton Eaton was the greatest decathlete of all time, and can thus assume the title of “world’s greatest athlete.”
Plum’s college career might not reside in the same rare air as those world-beating performances by pro athletes. But by all measures of why we fete individual athletes, Plum passes the test.
Did she rise above all others who played her sport at that level? Yes.
Did she lead her team to heights it had never reached? Yes.
Did she achieve greatness without sacrificing integrity both on and off the court? Yes. Plum signed autographs for two hours after a loss to Stanford, telling her coach “I’m not going to ignore a kid who came to watch us lose.”
There’s a good chance the spotlight on Plum will never be brighter. The WNBA has always struggled to be relevant on a national level. It’s possible Plum could become a star in that league and still not garner the national attention she has received this season. One national sports website compared her playing style to Houston Rockets star James Harden, who acknowledged the comparison on Twitter, including the hashtag “LuckyLefties.”
Among the many reasons to watch sports, at any level, is the appreciation of greatness.
That’s why I hope we appreciate Plum now … and especially in the future.
Micah Rice is the Sports Editor for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4548, micah.rice @columbian.com or follow his Twitter handle @col_mrice.