|Plumlee says he understands now that mock drafts and recruiting rankings 'don't mean a thing.' (Getty Images)|
Everyone knew Mason Plumlee wasn't coming back. His older brother, Miles, the Duke coaching staff, his close friends. It was a foregone conclusion prior to the start of last season.
"That's what I had told everybody," he said.
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The middle Plumlee brother wasn't supposed to still be in Durham, N.C., anyway -- not three years after enrolling at Duke.
"It was tough," Plumlee admitted. "Honestly, I only thought I'd be in school for a year."
Most did. Instead, Plumlee will spend four years at Duke, leave with his degree and the experience of playing with both Miles Plumlee and also his younger brother, Marshall, who will suit up this year after redshirting last season as a freshman.
Most guys toward the top of his 2009 high school graduating class are gone. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Avery Bradley and Xavier Henry have been in the NBA for a couple years. John Henson just left down the road in Chapel Hill after his junior campaign, one in which he averaged 13.7 points, 9.9 boards and 2.9 blocks.
The 6-foot-10 Plumlee's averages were comparable: 11.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. However, he decided to remain in school after a devastating first-round loss to Lehigh in the NCAA tournament and the word that he could slip into the second round of this past June's NBA Draft.
Plumlee's honesty is refreshing.
He talks about the expectations entering Duke, how many pumped him up as a likely one-and-done candidate and how it affected him.
"It can ruin your first year," Plumlee said.
Plumlee played sparingly his freshman season, averaging 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14 minutes per contest. His confidence and swagger, an area never previously in question, clearly was shaken. His sophomore year resulted in a step forward, but still far shy of the production both he and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski were expecting when the skilled big man out of the small town of Warsaw, Ind., signed with the Blue Devils.
Last season would be different. Duke had lost Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.
There was no choice now. It was finally Plumlee's time to shine -- and Coach K was touting the fact that the Blue Devils offense would start from the inside. However, when push came to shove, it was talented freshman Austin Rivers and Seth Curry who took the majority of the team's shots. Rivers hoisted more than 400 and Curry was second on the team with 336. Mason Plumlee threw up 250, an average of about seven per game.
Plumlee was torn with what to do after the season. On March 22, ex-Duke Blue Devil star Jay Williams tweeted that Plumlee was a done deal for the NBA Draft. However, that was not the case as Plumlee was still debating his decision. He was told that he'd likely be a late first-rounder with a slim chance he could go in the lottery and also the possibility he could fall down early into the second round.
"I decided to stay," Plumlee said. "And I'm glad I did."
It allowed his older brother, Miles, to have his own day on June 28 when the Indiana Pacers shocked the NBA world and took him 26th overall.
"It was all about him. He didn't have to share it with me," Mason said. "He deserved it."
Plumlee's swagger is back. He's a captain on this year's team, the fourth group he'll be a part of in Durham. There's a sense of urgency now, to finish strong -- as a team and as a player.
"In high school, it was all about the rankings and expectations," Mason said. "But now I understand it's all about winning. As far as the draft is concerned, watching Miles I understand that these mock drafts don't mean a thing. What matters is what happens on draft night."
Plumlee should be the go-to guy for Coach K this season. Rivers, who wasn't shy about hoisting shots, is gone. Curry and Ryan Kelly will get their share, redshirt freshman Alex Murphy will help as will freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. But this 2012-13 roster is clearly in need of a star. Four years ago, no one would have believed it to be Mason Plumlee.
"It took me a little while to accept it," Plumlee said. "But I'm excited about the thought of playing four years at Duke."