DURHAM — Marshall Plumlee was in the eighth grade when his older brothers moved from Indiana to North Carolina to play high school basketball at Christ School outside Asheville.
Without Miles and Mason to play against in the driveway or to drag him out of bed to get in some early shots at the gym, the youngest Plumlee brother found himself adrift.
That year was an off-year for me because I didnt realize how much I looked up to my brothers for more than just advice, but as role models, said Marshall Plumlee, a freshman Duke forward. As soon as I was able to join them at Christ School, I felt like everything was back on track.
Some four years later, everything is still on track for the Plumlee brothers. Miles, a senior, and Mason, a junior, are integral pieces of Dukes frontcourt, and both will likely start for the second-seeded Blue Devils (27-6) when they open the NCAA tournament Friday night against No. 15 seed Lehigh (26-7) at the Greensboro Coliseum (WRAL, 7:15 p.m.).
Marshall, meanwhile, is redshirting this season, biding his time as he soaks up the experience of being on the same team as his older brothers.
When Miles was honored before his final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3, he beckoned his brothers over to center court to share in the moment.
Its been special, Perky Plumlee said of his three sons playing together. I think this year, allowing them to be on the team together, even though Marshall is redshirting, its given them a year that hopefully theyll remember for the rest of their life.
Mason was the first Plumlee to decide to attend Duke, committing to the Blue Devils during his junior year at Christ School. Miles was planning on going to Stanford at that point, but after coach Trent Johnson left for LSU, Miles changed his mind and decided to join his younger brother.
Of the three, Marshall Plumlee may have been the most conflicted about coming to Durham.
Duke was one of the first schools to offer the 6-foot-11 center a scholarship, but Marshall wasnt sure the Blue Devils really wanted him or if it was simply a sentimental gesture. Marshall Plumlee is also good friends with Cody Zeller, who chose to forge his own path and play at Indiana rather than joining his brother Tyler, the ACCs recently named Player of the Year, at North Carolina. So that thought crossed Plumlees mind, too.
Perky Plumlee said the family was almost too hard on Duke during the recruiting process, but a turning point came when Marshall Plumlee pulled Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski aside while visiting his brothers the summer before his senior year in high school.
Marshall Plumlee bluntly asked if Duke was interested in him only because of his brothers.
Marshall is a really articulate kid and a deep-thinking kid, Wojciechowski said. It was a neat thing for an 18-year-old kid to be able to do to grown-ups. We feel like Marshall is going to be an outstanding player here. His maturity and his enthusiasm will all be of huge value to our program down the line.
Satisfied, Marshall Plumlee chose Duke.
If there was some thought that hed team with his two older brothers to form a three-headed Plumlee frontcourt this season, Marshall was soon dissuaded of the idea. He decided to redshirt once practice began and saw his brothers up-close.
Where Im at, theyre better than me right now, said Marshall Plumlee, who describes himself as the most conventional post player of the three. So in terms of playing time and my on-court development, there wouldnt have been an opportunity to play this year if my brothers and Ryan Kelly play the way I know theyre capable of playing.
While all three cast similarly tall shadows and share personality traits, the Plumlee brothers display nuanced differences off the court.
While Mason Plumlee was the one named Academic All-American for his 3.44 GPA in cultural anthropology and psychology, both he and Marshall maintain that Miles Plumlee is the smart one of the group.
Miles Plumlee earned 5s the highest score on the AP physics and calculus exams in high school. He originally planned on majoring in engineering when he got to Duke and was disappointed when he discovered the demands of the basketball program would prevent that from happening.
Mason Plumlee however, was the one who received honors for his academic prowess. All three brothers said that is a function of Masons time-management skills.
I would say I apply myself academically better than those two, Mason Plumlee said. Im not saying theyre lazy, but if they cared enough theyre both smarter than me.
Sibling rivalry got the best of Miles and Mason Plumlees relationship for a while. Miles said it wasnt until they moved from Indiana to Christ School that they became tight. Until then, Miles Plumlee said he was closer with Marshall, whom Miles described as his best friend growing up.
While Duke fans havent seen much of Marshall, every Plumlee said hes the jokester of the bunch.
Hes real funny, outgoing, Miles said about Marshall. Hes always making me and Mason crack up.
Importance to Duke
The Blue Devils NCAA tournament success will depend in part on whether Mason and Miles Plumlee can play up to the capabilities their youngest brother saw in them when he decided to redshirt.
Before the season started, Krzyzewski guessed this team would rely on its big men more than Duke teams usually do. That hasnt necessarily been the case, partially because as with the rest of the Blue Devils players this season neither Mason nor Miles Plumlee have been a model of consistency.
For most of the last month, however, Miles Plumlee has risen to the occasion. He had 22 rebounds in a Feb. 11 game against Maryland, the most for a Duke player since Krzyzewski became the Blue Devils coach in 1980. He also turned in a stout physical effort in Dukes Feb. 23 win at Florida State, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Mason Plumlee, meanwhile, has had a solid last two weeks after his production waned in the early part of February.
With junior forward Ryan Kellys availability and effectiveness in question for the start of the NCAA tournament after spraining his right foot in practice last week, it will be imperative that the Plumlees are at their best.
As he prepared for his senior day a couple of weeks ago, Miles Plumlee offered little hesitation in listing his career highlight thus far, immediately citing the NCAA title he and Mason helped Duke win in their home state in 2010.
It was such an incredible high, that there are not many ways to top it.
In fact, theres only one: a second title run to New Orleans.
The Plumlees hope theyre on that track.