Kelsey Plum and Under Armour want to sign girls up for ‘Dawg Class’ — Andscape
When Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum toured Under Armour’s expansive NBA All-Star Weekend activation space in Salt Lake City recently, she knew she’d found a good partner in advocating for the next generation of female players.
It was Plum’s first public appearance with Under Armour as an official endorser. Throughout an afternoon, she met with a local girls’ high school team, showcased the brand’s All-Star product collection for her social media audience of nearly 750,000 followers and hosted a fireside chat about her up-and-down path in the WNBA. All during what is often a crowded weekend schedule of brand events held primarily to promote NBA players.
“They had these dope pictures of Joel, Steph, Bones and me, and they had ‘Plum Dawg’ on there,” she said, beaming. “They just put a lot of time and intention into it, and that was one of the reasons why I was attracted to them.”
After winning last summer’s WNBA All-Star Game MVP and helping lead the Aces to their first WNBA championship in September, Plum headed into a sneaker free agency period that ended with her signing a multiyear deal with Under Armour in November.
From the start of her conversations with Under Armour, the Aces’ point guard sought ways to give back to the game.
“I just think this women’s space is so untapped,” said Plum. “Under Armour sees the potential in me to be able to impact that on a bigger level. I’ve never had that … I’ve worn other brands before, but this feels like a partnership. I don’t feel like a name on a list.”
One of the first efforts that Under Armour will be investing in with Plum is the launch of Dawg Class, a weekend camp for amateur female players that focuses on on-court skills and off-court topics such as mental health, life skills, branding and media training.
Referring to her “Plum Dawg” nickname, she wants the class to tap into that “dawg” mentality that’s fueled her basketball odyssey.
“It’s waking up and attacking the day. It’s someone that is very purposeful and has intent with what they do,” she said. “I think that resonates with everyone, in sport or out of sport. Different genders, races, it doesn’t matter. Everyone can be a dawg or learn to be a dawg.”
The first camp is slated for mid-April at IMG Academy, a 600-acre, multisport boarding school in Bradenton, Florida. Plum will host nine top women’s amateur hoopers and will participate in drills and activities as the 10th player, a nod to her longtime No. 10 jersey number.
“It’s going to be guards with pro aspirations that approach their game like that,” Plum said of the selection process. “There’s a level of separation when they play. Obviously, that separates them in their skill, toughness, and athleticism.”
The camp concept is largely born from the things she missed in her journey in the pros, which Plum shares as being an up-and-down road filled with doubt and injuries.
“I had to figure that out for myself,” she said. “I feel like I didn’t do a great job, and it took much of the love and passion out of the game.”
She wound up hiring a mental health coach after her fourth year in the WNBA when she battled a tear in her Achilles tendon that sidelined her throughout 2020 and she eventually moved to a reserve role. With the expectations of being a former No. 1 pick and a college record-setter, the uncertainty of her pro career carried a weight she hadn’t been prepared to face. She also relied heavily on Susan King Borchardt, founder of The Athlete Blueprint, a sports performance firm that guides athletes through rehab and beyond.
“I think the most successful people in sport can manage the off-the-court, which allows them to be present on the court,” said Plum.
Eventually, she turned the corner and thrived in that reserve role, and was named the WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year in 2021. Last summer, she averaged 20 points per game for the first time, started in all 36 games and was named an All-Star for the first time. After winning the All-Star Game MVP, she was named to the All-WNBA First Team and capped off a triumphant comeback with a league championship.
Plum plans to make her “team” available to the Dawg Class players for demos, workshops and interactions throughout the weekend, which she wishes she had at that age and stage of her career.
“I didn’t have a ton of resources to understand what it takes to become a really good college player, and then, a really good pro player,” she said. “It took me four or five years to figure that out, and I almost died in the process. I can help them bridge that gap so that they don’t have to fail how I failed.”
As a top prospect from Poway, California, Plum remembers noticing the disparity in resources that long marred the women’s game.
“This is a big gap,” she said. “In the NBA, a massive conglomerate of people help these young men transition from high school to college and then to the pros. They’re weaned on their way, and so many people and money are invested. We have nothing like that on the women’s side at all.
“The ultimate vision and goal is to have an excitement around, ‘Oh, you got invited to Dawg Class?’ ” she said. “That it’s something that players can look forward to, work for, and know that this is an honor and a privilege to be a part of.”
She said she knows that the resources Under Armour will be investing in the camp will help build a sense of community for the players participating in the weekend.
“There’s not a time where women can meet together consistently for growth points,” she continued. “When you become a pro, you’re now in charge of both your on-court and off-the-court, your conditioning, your strength, your mental prep, your marketing, media and how you handle things.
“People just get thrown into it, and if ya make it, ya make it,” she said.
“What I love about Kelsey is she wants to raise the opportunity and profile for women and girls in sports,” said Charece Williams Gee, Under Armour’s senior director of sports marketing and partnerships. “She has said how important it is for people to realize the beauty, the essence and the talent in women’s basketball. We love that she wants to give the next generation of players some tools to become an elite player, both from a physical and mental standpoint.”
While some WNBA stars covet the idea of releasing a signature sneaker, that wasn’t a priority for Plum. She’s also aware that only 10 women in the league’s 26-season history have released their own signature shoe.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s a primary focus for me,” she said. “It was more about if our vision aligned and the impact we could make. I’m sure that’s a possibility, and it could come. It’s so funny though, because when I did switch, people were saying, ‘Oh, KP 1s!’ But that wasn’t really on my radar. I don’t need a [signature] shoe to be able to feel that.”
From the brand’s viewpoint, it’s looking for Plum to highlight the best of its available offerings rather than stick with just one silhouette each year.
“The great thing about Kelsey is that she’s loved by all,” said Williams Gee. “She’s loved by men, women, boys and girls, so when it comes to Kelsey and shoes that she wears, she’ll wear something that matches the caliber of her influence.”
So far, she’s played in a range of sneakers from the brand, such as the HOVR Havoc 4, Curry 9 Flow, Flow FUTR X 2 and the Women’s Breakthru Flow series.
“I had gotten an opportunity to try out the Flow [technology]” after a series of workouts in motion capture at the company’s office in Portland, Oregon, she said. “I tried out that and then a previous shoe that I wore, and the difference in my lack of slippage and the [reaction] time and distance was huge. We talked about using my strengths and finding a way to elevate them.”
Feeling valued, welcomed and wanted only added to Plum’s excitement to sign on with Under Armour. It’s that same sincerity, genuineness and level of care that she’s looking to convey to the select players at her inaugural camp.
“This is not a one-stop-shop weekend and, ‘See you later,’ ” said Plum. “This is, ‘Hey, here’s my number, call me whenever you need. If I can’t help you, I will find you someone that will.’ ”
While the recent NBA All-Star Weekend may have served as the starting point of the partnership, it’s the launch of Dawg Class next month that she’s looking forward to, with Under Armour providing resources and the capability to impact players looking to pursue the path that Plum has powered through.
“That’s the whole intent with Dawg Class. Give people a community that they don’t have so that when they do make that transition, it’s so much easier,” said Plum. “I want this to be the most elite camp of its kind, and I want to make an impact on these young women’s lives. I want them to leave feeling like they feel a lot better about their next transition than when they came in.”