Another Plumlee emerging for Duke

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 08:35 PM

Five weeks ago, with Duke’s ACC start a struggle, coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was time to include more players in the rotation.

That also happened to be when Marshall Plumlee, the only true center on the Blue Devils' roster, regained the good health to allow him to emerge from a 17-month basketball hibernation.

The confluence of those situations has led to good things for the No. 6 Blue Devils, who will play Virginia Tech tonight (7 p.m., ESPNU).

After watching Plumlee grab six rebounds in 16 minutes at North Carolina last Thursday and score four points, secure five rebounds and block three shots in the first half of Saturday’s 66-60 win over Syracuse, Krzyzewski said the 7-footer has a place in Duke’s plans.

“He’s huge going forward for us,” Krzyzewski said Monday.

Over Duke’s first three ACC games, losses at Notre Dame and Clemson sandwiched around a home win over Georgia Tech, Plumlee played a total of six minutes. He didn’t play at all on Jan. 11 when Clemson beat Duke 72-59 and gained a whopping 48-30 rebounding edge.

On Jan. 13, when Duke played Virginia, Krzyzewski unveiled the five-in, five-out line change substitution pattern that he’s used sporadically ever since. Plumlee played 12 minutes that night as the Blue Devils won 69-65.

His statistical line included a mere one rebound and one blocked shot. He committed two fouls and didn’t attempt a shot.

But he ran up and down the court unimpeded by the foot injuries that dogged his first two seasons on campus.

He’s played in every ACC game for Duke since then and his latest games give Krzyzewski, as well as Blue Devils fans everywhere, expectations that he’ll be a positive force off the bench when the important ACC and NCAA tournaments arrive next month.

“He is a good player and he is going to be a really good player,” Krzyzewski said. “With a recovery, some kids never recover and get to the level they were. Marshall has worked hard and is getting there. He’ll have a more prominent role on our team as he gets to that level.”

For Plumlee, who watched his older brothers Miles and Mason play for Duke before heading to NBA careers, there’s satisfaction in seeing his role develop.

“I’m excited to bring whatever I can to the game, whether that’s stats, rebounding, points or just energy to kind of lift the team,” Marshall Plumlee said. “We all have our roles, and I’m trying to do mine to the best of my ability.”

Marshall Plumlee spent one season as a Duke teammate with Miles and Mason, but Marshall redshirted during that 2011-12 season.

Last season, with Mason Plumlee turning in an all-ACC season, the Blue Devils went 30-6 and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Slowed by a stress fracture in his left foot that was diagnosed in October 2012, Marshall Plumlee played in only 19 games before having surgery last April 23.

Duke could have used Plumlee’s strength, defense and rebounding ability earlier this season. Krzyzewski agrees but said it wasn’t possible.

“He wasn’t ready to do that,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s become better. That’s because he continues to work hard. He’s done extra work. He’s played really well, especially in these last two games.”

Plumlee can play an integral role off the bench as Duke plays its last three ACC regular-season games before gearing up for the postseason.

He said his mental approach has helped him physically.

“A little patience,” Plumlee said. “It’s taken me a little too long to figure out how to show a little patience. But it’s paying off and the coaching staff has been great working with me and helping develop me. And my teammates have been really supportive. I feel more comfortable in my role now than ever, and my teammates are just incredibly supportive. If we each play our part and really play together, we can be a really tough team.”