A Plumlee assignment: Lead the Blue Devils
The words weren’t spoken when Mason Plumlee made his decision.
They didn’t have to be.
In April, Plumlee weighed whether he would enter the NBA draft or remain at Duke for his senior season.
Projected as a late first-round pick, the 6-11 Plumlee also looked at what Duke’s team would look like this season and projected his role.
“I really didn’t have a doubt about that role,” Plumlee said. “It sounds crazy because no one told me that or anything. But I sat back and looked at things and thought, ‘Ok there’s no stopping me. It’s my team. It’s my year.’”
One month into his final season with the Blue Devils, Plumlee has fulfilled that vision.
Second in the ACC in scoring (19.6 points per game) and tops in the league in rebounding (11.0), Plumlee has helped No. 2 Duke (7-0) become an NCAA title contender.
He enters today’s game with Temple at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., (3:17 p.m., ESPN) as one of only four players in the country averaging at least 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.
With that kind of production, it’s clear why Duke’s offense runs through Plumlee in the middle this season. But Plumlee wants it known that he made his decision to put the NBA off for a year before Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discussed such a prominent role.
“It wasn’t a thing where he made a bunch of promises and I was like, ‘Well, OK. I want to come back.’” Plumlee said. “Just to set the record straight, that wasn’t it. It was more of he told me, ‘If you want to be here, we want you. If you want don’t want to be here, don’t come back.’ Not in a bad way but just matter of factly.
“He wants people that want to be here. I told him I wanted to be here, and he told me what he expected of me.”
Duke is reaping the benefits with a balanced offense where it gets points in the paint from Plumlee while also having perimeter threats such as guards Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Ryan Kelly.
Krzyzewski said Plumlee deserves all the credit for his improvement because he worked diligently over the summer.
“He has always been a really good player,” Krzyzewski said. “He is just a terrific player now. It is called maturity and learning the game. LeBron James is a better player now than he was seven years ago.
“If players want to get better, they get better. It is all on him to get better, and he has paid the price to get better. Where he is at is primarily on him. He took responsibility for who he was as a player and who he is going to become as a player, and he is one of the best players in the country.”
Plumlee’s work came in Chicago, where he worked a summer internship at Barclay’s Capital. When not dealing in the world of high finance, Plumlee played pickup games at DePaul University or at the Moody’s Bible Institute gym.
He also worked out at Attack Athletics, a high-level training center that lists former and current NBA players among its clients. His talks with Krzyzewski gave Plumlee and idea of what would be expected, and he got himself ready.
“Coach gave me a really good blueprint for how he was going to be able to use me, what he expected me to be able to do this year,” Plumlee said.
That included improving his free throw shooting. Plumlee made 50.5 percent of his free throws during his first three Duke seasons. Because of that, Krzyzewski often removed him from games in the final minutes.
After shooting nearly 2,000 free throws per week in the offseason and tweaking his approach, Plumlee has made 76.1 percent of his free throws this season.
Instead of getting the ball at the line, dribbling a couple of times and shooting, Plumlee said he gets the ball and shoots without dribbling.
“Coach (Krzyzewski) told me last year, ‘Don’t even dribble. Just get up there, take a breath and let it go,’” Plumlee said. “You know, I like it. That is my routine. My routine is not to dribble, just let it go.”
Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said Plumlee’s new-found confidence at the line helps him throughout games, not just at end-of-game situations.
“I think it gives him confidence to be more aggressive whenever he gets the ball,” Wojciechowski said.
As a whole, the entire Duke team is confident with how this year’s club is playing. Sophomore Quinn Cook is handling the point guard duties, Curry and Sulaimon are scoring on the perimeter and Kelly is providing points, rebounds and defense.
But everyone knows that Plumlee is to be Duke’s major threat.
“This year, Coach has really put me at the forefront,” Plumlee said. “From the first day of practice, it was, ‘Get Mason the ball. Feed him.” He’s been consistent about that throughout.
“He’s also put the onus on me to demand that from my teammates. I embraced it. Who wouldn’t?”