DURHAM — There were times last year when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski would take Mason Plumlee out near the end of close games. The reason: he didnt want Dukes big man shooting pressure free throws.
Rightfully so, Plumlee added.
So far this season, though, that fear is gone. Through eight games, Plumlee leads Duke with 67 free throw attempts and has converted 76.1 percent of those shots. Not bad for a player who shot 50.4 percent during his first three seasons.
Maybe last year or the year before, he would avoid contact because he didnt want to go to the line, associate head coach Chris Collins said of Plumlee on his weekly radio show. Now he goes right through a guys chest and goes up there and makes two free throws with a couple of minutes left in the game. It shows a lot about the work he has put in.
While much has been made of Mason Plumlees improved numbers this season, his transformation actually began last year.
Coach (Krzyzewski) told me last year, dont even dribble, just get up there, take a breath and let it go, Plumlee said. You know, I like it. That is my routine. My routine is not to dribble, just let it go.
While Plumlee finished the 2011-12 season with a 52.8 shooting percentage from the line, he showed improvement over the final month of the season. Starting with the Feb. 19 game at Boston College, Plumlee went 23-for-31 (74.2 percent) to close out the year.
He carried that momentum into the summer, when he spent countless hours in Chicagos famous Attack Athletes and Moody Bible gyms. Some days, hed shoot as many as 800 free throws, tracking his success rate as he went along. On particularly good days, he would shoot around 80 percent.
It was just a gradual increase, Plumlee said. If you did a scatter plot, it would just be a steady slope. There would be days where I would shoot better and days when I would shoot worse than the day before, but I just kept at it.
Plumlee went a perfect 4-for-4 from the line against Kentucky. The following game against Florida Gulf Coast, he was 10-of-11 and then 8-of-10 against Minnesota in the Bahamas.
After the victory over Virginia Commonwealth, during which Plumlee went 6-for-6 in the second half while Duke had a single-digit lead, he was asked about his increased success.
You always want to be aggressive, and I know Im most likely going to shoot free throws more than anyone else on the team, he said. I have to make teams pay for fouling me. And, of course, it looks better individually as well if you end up with 17 (points) instead of 12.
Krzyzewski interrupted him.
And we win instead of lose, he said, patting Plumlee on the back.
Plumlee smiled. And if he can sustain his success, Krzyzewski will be smiling, too.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley