Plumlees a true basketball family

Parents' early plan key to Duke brothers' success

Staff WriterMarch 21, 2010 

— Many years ago, before "Krzyzewski" became a name most basketball fans could spell, Millard "Perky" Plumlee met Leslie Schultz at Purdue's basketball camp.

They were working there as counselors in 1979. She played collegiately for Purdue. He played at Tennessee Tech but was from West Lafayette, Ind.

When he met her, he thought she was prettier than any of the women playing basketball at his school. Nothing more came of that initial attraction, at least not right away. But they were destined to share a charmed life with the sport that brought them together as a constant focal point for them and the children they would raise.

Flash forward to last weekend's ACC tournament semifinals in Greensboro.

Duke freshman forward Mason Plumlee, all 6 feet 10 of him, was barreling down the court with the ball on a 2-on-1 break against Miami.

He tossed a perfect alley-oop pass over the hapless defender to where only his teammate could grab it. Miles Plumlee, a 6-10 sophomore center and Mason's older brother, grabbed the pass out of the air and slammed it home.

In the stands behind the Duke bench at the Greensboro Coliseum, Perky and Leslie stood up and cheered. To their right, a younger, taller Plumlee brother stood, clapping vigorously.

Marshall Plumlee is a 7-foot junior who just led Christ School in Arden to its fourth straight NCISAA private schools state title. He, too, has scholarship offers to play basketball at many Division I schools, including Duke.

His older brothers have been key reserves on a Duke team that has won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. They appear to be the future for the Blue Devils in the frontcourt, but they're also key parts of the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils' present, which includes a second-round NCAA tournament game today against No. 8 California (5:20 p.m.).

Miles (5.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Mason (4.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) have modest statistics this season, but throughout the ACC tournament, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praised their contributions.

Their brother Marshall is rated the 24th-best recruit in his class by scout.com, and their sister Madeline is a talented eighth-grade volleyball player. Add up all four of their schedules, and the Plumlees have spent plenty of family weekends traveling to club tournaments.

Perky Plumlee recently reminisced about the days the family spent traveling to club basketball games while the boys were growing up in Warsaw, Ind. On the way home, they would stop at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, and the boys would get excited about ordering breakfast food in the evenings.

"It's been a great pursuit for the whole family," he said, "and we have a lot of fond memories."

Hoops family

After graduating from Purdue, Leslie was working at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis in 1985 when a friend asked her to play for a team in the White River State Park Games, a yearly statewide summer sports festival that was held in Indiana.

Leslie fouled out of a game held on the Notre Dame campus and sat down on the bench. She was surprised to find who came up behind her.

Perky was playing on a men's team at the games. He told her that he would be attending law school at Indiana University in Indianapolis in the fall, and they agreed that he would call her when he got there.

Three months later, he did. They were married on Aug. 29, 1987, and lived for about five years on a 100-acre farm near Battle Ground, Ind.

The older boys were born 18 months apart and were ferociously competitive. Miles, the oldest, was quiet because he could never get more than a word or two in before Mason would talk over him, in his low, raspy voice.

Perky and Leslie wanted their children to be well-rounded, so they enrolled them in all kinds of sports, including soccer and swimming. Miles played the trumpet, and Leslie even had them take tap dance lessons.

As they grew, it seemed obvious that basketball was their sport. But when Miles, in particular, wasn't getting much playing time at the local high school in Warsaw, Ind., they made one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.

After watching their sons play club basketball, they were sure Miles could shine somewhere else.

'Natural' teammates

In the chapel at Christ School, they hold a sort of commencement for parents as they drop off their children.

Perky and Leslie sat in the back row during the emotional ceremony, crying their eyes out. They look back now and say it was one of the best decisions they've ever made.

"Every day we pinch ourselves," Leslie said. "It was very difficult the day we had to do it, but it's just turned out great."

It turned out they were right about Miles. He thrived at Christ School and accepted a basketball scholarship to Stanford. Later, Mason committed to Duke.

Then coach Trent Johnson left Stanford to coach LSU, and Miles re-opened his recruitment. Duke needed another big guy, and Krzyzewski - after asking Mason's permission - offered a scholarship to Miles.

Instead of trying to follow two sons on opposite coasts, the family now can see both boys at the same time. And Mason and Miles seem to enjoy playing together.

They usually check into the game at the same time, shortly before the first media timeout, to replace senior starters Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.

"When Mason's got the ball and I post up, I know he's going to look at me," Miles said. "So it's just a little more I guess, a habit, because playing with someone your whole life is just a little more natural."

Before the ACC tournament, Miles and Mason both said they needed to raise their level of play in order for Duke to continue improving in the postseason. With Zoubek and Thomas leaving the program after this season, the Plumlees also know Duke's low-post possibilities soon will rest on their shoulders.

"It's exciting," Mason said. "We have a lot more to accomplish, me and my brother, and a lot more that we want to do."

That starts with this game today against Cal, and this NCAA tournament.

Marshall Plumlee also could play a role in Duke's future but said he is a long way from deciding. He enjoyed playing with his brothers two years ago when the three of them helped Christ School win a state title but said that won't be his deciding factor.

Right now he's enjoying the outdoors near Asheville as much as basketball.

He goes kayaking, camping, hiking and caving. Whatever happens, Perky said they probably will consider it a blessing.

When the boys were little, he prayed with them before they went to bed. He told them that there is a unique and wonderful plan for their lives.

No one could know that better than Perky - and Leslie - Plumlee, who met as college basketball players, still enjoying what they consider a charmed life through their sport.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service