Duke basketball has recruited big men off the McDonald's All-American teams since shortly after the inception of said teams. From Danny Ferry back in 1985 to names like Alaa Abdelnaby, Christian Laettner, Cherokee Parks, Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski has landed a who's who of talented post players.
Even now, Coach K is still signing giant stars. Chicago product Jahlil Okafor is set to suit up this fall for what promises to be a short collegiate career. Las Vegas big man Chase Jeter is Duke's most recent verbal commitment, and he's a likely candidate to appear in the 2015 All-American game.
But all of this discussion of the new Duke All-Americans leaves out the one that's been on the roster since 2011. Marshall Plumlee has been a different sort of cat since before he landed in Durham, North Carolina, with interests well beyond basketball. He's also been one of the least successful McDonald's All-Americans in history. With Okafor and Jeter set to hit campus in the next two years, that doesn't seem likely to change.
At this point, players with little on their minds except making it to the NBA would be sticking out their thumb and hitching a ride to places where the playing time is more readily available than Duke. Plumlee, however, doesn't appear to be the transferring type. And perhaps that's for the best.
Burger Boy Blues
When we say that Plumlee is one of the least productive McDonald's All-Americans in recent memory, it's not hyperbole. The numbers bear the statement out. Check out this list of All-Americans since 2003 who struggled over their first two seasons.
|Lowest-Scoring McDonald's All-Americans 2003-12 (First 2 Years)|
|Amir Williams||Ohio St.||66||26||2.7||3.1||No|
|Eric Boateng||Duke/Ariz. St.||54||1||2.7||1.9||Yes|
|Shannon Scott||Ohio St.||72||2||3.1||2.0||No|
|Luke Zeller||Notre Dame||59||25||3.6||2.6||No|
|Tyler Lewis||NC State||70||20||3.9||1.2||Yes|
|Wally Judge||Kansas St.||53||17||4.0||3.3||Yes|
It's easy to say that we should have expected atypical production from Plumlee, who was one of the least hyped All-Americans in the last decade. He's one of only three All-America picks since 2003 to rank outside of his recruiting class's RSCI top 50, according to StatSheet.com. Ranked No. 61 in 2011, Plumlee joins Tweety Carter (No. 69 in 2006) and Kennedy Meeks (No. 56 in 2013) on that short list.
Of course, Carter went on to a distinguished career at Baylor, leading the Bears to the 2010 Elite Eight. Meeks is projected to start at center for North Carolina this season after averaging 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds as a freshman. An All-American should certainly be expected to contribute, regardless of rankings.
Plumlee's body has also done him no favors.
After redshirting due to roster congestion in 2011-12, a foot injury nagged Plumlee throughout the following year. Surgery to correct it cost him much of the pivotal 2013 offseason. At that point, Duke had no other viable center, meaning that a healthy Plumlee would have had a chance to become a starter just as his brothers Miles and Mason had before him.
And now? The idea of Plumlee starting ahead of Okafor sounds as laughable as the thought that Ed Spriggs could have beaten out Patrick Ewing at Georgetown in 1981. No disrespect to Ed Spriggs.
Next year, when Plumlee's a senior? Jeter's a more natural power forward than center, so perhaps the two could play together. But would you bench a proven, relentless rebounder like Amile Jefferson—who'll also be a senior in 2015-16—for Plumlee? Neither would I.
Plus, the 2015-16 season will see the Blue Devils debut of Sean Obi, a 6'9", 265-pound sophomore who averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his rookie year at Rice before transferring to Duke.
It's time for the youngest Plumlee boy to pack his things and haul off to some program that can salvage his dream of joining his brothers in the NBA, right? Not many would begrudge him such a choice, as five of the other 11 players listed in the chart above bolted schools at least once in their careers.
But eh, not so fast. Remember, a different sort of cat.
All That He Can Be?
Even during his high school career, Plumlee's teachers and coaches were noticing that the tall, skinny kid was a bit of a renaissance man.
"Marshall has his own personality," Christ School (Arden, North Carolina) coach David Gaines told ESPN's Christopher Lawlor in 2009. "He has several interests away from basketball that makes him one of the most likable students at our school. He relates to many different kids."
According to Lawlor's profile, those interests included tennis, kayaking, acting, film editing, whitewater rafting, marine biology and sumo wrestling. Yes, sumo wrestling, mawashi and all.
Even while he enjoys the possibility of finally getting a full offseason to work on fitness and skills, Plumlee's got his eyes on bigger things away from the court. Like, say, becoming a general?
In an interview with GoDuke.com, Plumlee laid out his academic plans in even greater detail than anything pertaining to basketball. Thanks to his redshirt season back in 2011, Plumlee will be able to finish his bachelor's degree in history and top it off with a master's.
He'll also be set to complete the U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, a track that he started on by signing up for Duke's ROTC program during that redshirt season. The ultimate goal is to become a commissioned Army officer.
“It’s definitely a big time commitment, but that’s part of what makes it so special—sacrificing a little bit to become a better person and have that discipline in my life,” Plumlee said.
Now, I ask you: Does this sound like a man for whom basketball is the be-all and end-all?
While we can obsess over the on-court potential that we see as being wasted, that's merely Plumlee's basketball career. What's many times more important is Plumlee's life, which is being anything but wasted. He has plans at Duke and beyond, and those plans aren't completely centered around becoming an All-ACC selection and/or an NBA draft pick.
The old Army ad slogan said, "Be all you can be." Plumlee doesn't consider "NBA center" a designation that fits all he can be. He'll go do something different, and he'll likely enjoy every minute of it. And he'll do it with a Duke education.
Marshall Plumlee's not going anywhere. And from the sound of things, nor should he.
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