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Alfonso Plummer ready to pick up where he left off last year for Utah basketball team

Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) runs back on defense after nailing a 3-pointer against Oregon State during the first round of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) runs back on defense after nailing a 3-pointer against Oregon State during the first round of the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The last time we saw Alfonso Plummer, he was having the game of his life and one of the best games ever by a University of Utah basketball player, at least from a shooting standpoint.

The 6-foot-1 guard could hardly miss that night in Las Vegas in a Pac-12 first-round tournament game against Oregon State as he sank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, 11 in all, and sank eight shots in a row at one point. The Utes ended up losing on a last-second basket 71-69, but you couldn’t blame Plummer, who scored more than half his team’s points with 35.

Plummer, who hardly played at times early in the season for the Utes, had come on strong late in the year when he was given a chance to play because Both Gach was injured and later when freshman point guard Rylan Jones went down with an injury.

He had scored 23 and 21 points in the Utes’ two previous games and was the starting two guard when the Utes played the Beavers their Pac-12 tournament opener in what turned out to be the last night of the 2019-20 college basketball season.

His 11 3-point baskets that night in Las Vegas shattered the Utah mark of eight set by Johnnie Bryant in 2008, and he tied the Pac-12 tournament record set by Washington State’s Klay Thompson (he was four off the NCAA Division I record if you’re wondering).

Fans at that game at T-Mobile Arena were shaking their heads as the left-hander kept swishing 3-pointers from all over the floor.

Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle called Plummer’s performance “unbelievable” and quipped that Plummer was “hitting shots with blindfolds on and shooting them backwards.”

The Utes had hoped to keep playing, perhaps in the NIT tournament, but that game turned out to be the last one of the 2019-20 season as the following day, college basketball was shut down for the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Soon after, Plummer went back to his native Puerto Rico, where he’s been spending time with his family and trying to get in as much practice time as possible.

Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) reacts to a call during a game against the USC Trojans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.
Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) reacts to a call during a game against the USC Trojans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

“I’ve been working out, trying to get better in my game, hanging out with my family — it’s kind of the same thing here every day with the pandemic,” he said from his home this week.

Plummer said he has access to a gym and a weight room, although the latter has recently been closed because “things are getting worse in Puerto Rico.”

“It was under control in the beginning, but everyone started getting out and on July 4 everybody went to the beach,” he said. “It was crazy, people everywhere and since that day, everything got worse. We can still go to gyms, but can’t go to the beach, nothing like that.”

He said he plans to return to Utah the first week of August and looks forward to seeing his teammates and working out with them again. Most of his teammates have been participating in workouts this month.

Plummer came to Utah last year as a junior college transfer after averaging 18.6 points on 45 percent 3-point shooting for Arizona Western and was the only junior on a Utes team that included 15 freshmen and sophomores.

His minutes were spotty as he didn’t even get into five games and played just a handful of minutes in several others. He showed his potential with 17 points against Mississippi Valley State and 18 against Central Arkansas, but didn’t get as many minutes because of his practice habits, according to coach Larry Krystkowiak.

Later in the season, Krystkowiak acknowledged that Plummer “is a better game player than practice player” and after a couple of Plummer’s 20-point games later in the season, the U. coach said, “He makes me look pretty silly that he hasn’t been out there a lot more during the course of a season. But better late than never.”

Plummer understands why he didn’t play more earlier in the Utes’ 16-15 season.

“I would say, it was kind of hard for me to understand the game from the point of view of the coaches,” he said. “Not everything was shoot and run back. You have to do everything to help the team, in defense, in communication, be a leader — help the team in everything. So it was hard for me in the beginning. They always knew I’m a great shooter, they always gave me the confidence that I’m going to be there. I just kept working hard trying to get better in my game.”

For the season, Plummer led the team in 3-point makes with 50 and in percentage at 42%. Over the last three games he was a sizzling 60% on 21 of 35 from long range.

While the Utes were hurt by the surprising departure of Gach after his sophomore season, that may have opened up a door for Plummer to be the main two guard in 2020-21 despite his size. Or he may fill a sixth-man role for the Utes this year. Either way, Plummer is excited about the Utes’ prospects this coming season.

“Everybody knows I can shoot, so I know this year everybody’s going to be on me,” he said. “So I’m trying to be a complete player and not just for shots. Now I want to get better on my handles, create plays for everybody, because I can bring attention and somebody’s going to be open. I know I’ll help the team to be better next year and get to the tournament.”

That’s the main goal, to get the Utes to their first NCAA Tournament since 2016.

“I have so much faith. Last year, we were so young, but now we’ve got guys with experience. Last year we beat Kentucky, one of the best teams in the nation and we were young. I know this year we’re going to be way better because we know what’s coming. I know this year we’re going to the tournament.”