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From Puerto Rico to Yuma, Ariz., to Salt Lake City: Here’s how sharpshooting Alfonso Plummer wound up at Utah

The Ute senior is averaging 13.3 points through 17 games. He always knew he’d make it at the Power 5 level.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Alfonso Plummer (25) drives to the basket as Utah hosts Idaho, NCAA basketball in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.

Late in the 2019 recruiting cycle, the University of Utah was still in the market for some shooting, so the coaching staff circled back to a Division I junior college in its region, Arizona Western College.

Alfonso Plummer, then a Matadors sophomore, had entered Utah’s radar the season before. A lot of video was consumed on the Puerto Rican-born lefty sharpshooter early in his time at Arizona Western, but the staff didn’t see him live until late in that 2017-18 season, when he was a freshman.

“He lived up to the billing as a dynamic shooter and scorer,” longtime Utes assistant coach Tommy Connor told The Salt Lake Tribune. “In practice, in a game, he was what we thought. He could get his shot off, he could shoot it from deep, he could make a lot of tough shots.

“The first time we saw him, we knew what he was capable of.”

Plummer had upwards of a dozen scholarship offers late in his sophomore year, mostly from low and mid-majors where he would have been able to play, not to mention shoot, a ton. Utah reentering the picture late as the only Power Five program pursuing him hard changed things.

“At that point, you have to decide what the best fit is,” Connor said. “A mid-major, you play right away, or at our level, you chase your dreams, see if you can do it. He was a pretty confident kid.”

Added Arizona Western coach Charles Harral to The Tribune: “I think people get caught up in size. He’s probably more point guard size (at 6-foot-1), than a guy who plays shooting guard. I think higher-level schools were maybe confused by that. He deserved higher looks, but Utah knew what they wanted and knew what he could do. If he were three inches taller and shooting it a little better, he would have gotten more looks.

On May 6, 2019, Plummer committed to head coach Larry Krystkowiak and Utah, ending a two-and-a-half-year detour through Yuma, Ariz.

Harral, a former Weber State assistant who has been at the helm of Arizona Western for a decade, was made aware of Plummer by Sanford assistant coach Sergio Rouco in 2016. At the time, Rouco was an assistant at Austin Peay, but Harral’s relationship with him went back to the 2003-04 season when Rouco was an assistant at UTEP, where Harral was a graduate assistant. Rouco, born in Cuba and raised in Miami, has deep recruiting ties in the state of Florida as well Central America.

“I took Sergio’s word for it,” Harral said half-jokingly. “I saw some video, I liked what I saw in terms of shooting, but there just wasn’t a lot of information out there on him.”

With Harral trusting Rouco, Plummer arrived in Yuma from Puerto Rico in January 2017. Instead of wasting a year of eligibility on half a season, Harral redshirted Plummer, which, in hindsight, should be construed as a positive. Instead of having to get off the plane and dive into the middle of a season, Plummer was able to get his bearings in a new country.

“It’s always hard in the beginning with a change in cultures,” Plummer told The Tribune. “It was hard in the beginning trying to have friends, people who want to help me. It was a struggle, but I credit my dad. He always had my back, gave me the encouragement to be strong. I would say the first six or seven months were a struggle, but everything worked out.”

Plummer was good as a freshman in 2017-18, averaging 14.9 points per game on 51.4% shooting and 45.8% shooting. The bulk of that production came off Harral’s bench as Arizona Western went 23-10 and won the NJCAA Region I title, but fell in the District I playoff to Salt Lake Community College with a spot at the NJCAA National Tournament at stake.

As his recruiting picked up as a sophomore, Plummer’s scoring (18.6 PPG) and minutes (29.4 MPG) went up as the Matadors got over the hump. His 23 points and nine rebounds helped win the Region I championship game, 85-81, in overtime vs. Eastern Arizona.

Five days later, with another crack at NJCAA Nationals, colloquially referred to as “Hutch” because of its longtime home being in Hutchinson, Kan., Plummer pumped in 23 more points on 9-for-14 shooting in a decisive 93-79 win over Snow College.

“We had three really good guards that year, but he was by far the best,” Harral said. “Without Alfonso, we don’t go to Hutch. He was the best scorer, the best overall player on that team. He made a lot of big shots. The Region final, the District championship game against Snow to go to Hutch, he was the best player in both of those games.”

Plummer’s time and exploits at Utah are well-documented. An enigmatic, up-and-down tug of war for playing time in the early and middle portions of last season gave way to a late-season awakening. In Utah’s last six games, Plummer averaged 18.8 points on 52.2% shooting from the floor and 65.9% from deep. That run was capped by a Pac-12 Tournament single-game record 11 triples as part of a career-high 35 points in a first-round loss to Oregon State.

Without fail, that Pac-12 Tournament shooting exhibition is now mentioned by broadcast teams every time Utah plays a game. That effort turned Plummer into something of a cult legend among Utah fans, feeding the curiosity as to what he would do for an encore.

Plummer has been mostly-solid this season while splitting time between the starting lineup and coming off Krystkowiak’s bench. His 13.3 points per game rank second on the team behind All-Pac-12 candidate Timmy Allen. His 43.8% shooting from the floor and 36.4% from deep are both dips from last season, but those figures come with Plummer playing nearly 11 minutes per game more with almost twice as many field goal attempts per game compared to 2019-20.

However this season ends for Plummer and the Utes (9-8, 6-7 Pac-12), there is the looming question of what next season holds. Since the NCAA has frozen the eligibility clock for student-athletes in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plummer, the only senior on the roster, has the option to return next season.

Offseason defections are always a possibility in this day and age of the NCAA Transfer Portal, in addition to looming one-time transfer legislation by the NCAA, but if Plummer opts to come back and Krystkowiak holds on to his core, Utah could be a factor in the top half of the Pac-12 next season.

Krystkowiak said Tuesday afternoon during a Zoom call ahead of Thursday’s game at Oregon State (6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) that Plummer’s future, and that of the rest of the Utes, has not been discussed yet.

Plummer echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t know yet, it’s a tough decision to be honest,” Plummer said. “We’re trying to go to the [NCAA] Tournament. Right now, it’s kind of hard to think about. It’s still kind of early.”

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