Luke DeCock

Indianapolis has been good to Duke’s Plumlees

Duke center Marshall Plumlee (40) is pressured by Gonzaga’s Kyle Dranginis (3) during their game in the NCAA South Region Sunday, March 29, 2015 at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
Duke center Marshall Plumlee (40) is pressured by Gonzaga’s Kyle Dranginis (3) during their game in the NCAA South Region Sunday, March 29, 2015 at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Not that Marshall Plumlee isn’t easy to spot anyway, towering over just about everyone else, but he was particularly conspicuous.

While Duke teammates left practice in their usual street clothes, Plumlee was still wearing his Army ROTC uniform – starched white shirt, uniform pants, blue beret and name tag reading “PLUMLEE” pinned to his chest – from class Tuesday.

Plumlee’s plan is to enter the Army Reserve after he graduates in 2016 and pursue a professional basketball career, a military career path followed by David Robinson and several Air Force football players, among others.

That makes Plumlee used to handling distractions, balancing basketball and his pledge to enter the military after he leaves Duke, but there’s nothing like going home for the Final Four as he tries to follow in his brothers’ footsteps this week.

Miles and Mason Plumlee won a national title in Indianapolis in 2010, only 21/2 hours from where they grew up in Warsaw, Ind. Now the third Plumlee will attempt to do the same.

“At least in my family’s experience, when Duke comes to Indianapolis, it’s special,” Plumlee said. “This year, we’re focusing on our team’s journey, making it special for us. The fact that it’s in Indiana, that’s exciting for my family. I’d be thrilled if we made it to a Final Four in Siberia.”

It’s been a curious season for the redshirt junior, little used in his first two seasons at Duke and even the first half of this season. His statistics are not impressive – 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game – but not only has he become a very useful part of a very short-handed roster, he’s been the unsung hero in Jahlil Okafor’s development.

Plumlee has been the big-bodied sounding board as Okafor hones and refines his constantly developing arsenal of offensive moves, gleaned from film study of NBA stars past and present. Every day in practice, they do battle. And on a roster with no one else taller than 6-foot-9, his height has been an essential element.

“He’s gotten me better tremendously since I stepped on campus,” Okafor said. “Someone I battle with every day. He’s my size, 7 foot, and super-strong. He’s really improved me. And he’s always ready. He’s had some big games for us this year.”

Plumlee, who has plenty of experience going up against future NBA players growing up with Miles and Mason, wasn’t ready to take too much credit for Okafor’s development.

“Jahlil’s a spectacular player with or without me,” Plumlee said. “I’d like to think I have made him better in some ways. I can tell you that he’s made me worlds better. It doesn’t get much better than going up against a player like him every day in practice.”

There’s evidence of that, especially the ACC tournament game against N.C. State, when Plumlee had 12 points, all coming on six dunks, although his double-double in the opening NCAA tournament win over Robert Morris comes close.

Plumlee had 10 points and 10 rebounds, which isn’t all that surprising considering even though he is a depth player at Duke he would probably be a player-of-the-year contender in the Northeast Conference.

But he came to Duke to win a national title, to follow in his brothers’ footsteps. Both of them are now playing in the NBA, as Okafor will be soon. Which raises the question, how would Okafor have fit in around the Plumlee driveway hoop?

“I think Jahlil can hold himself in any backyard,” Plumlee said. “But that would be interesting.”

That hoop isn’t all that far from Indianapolis, where two Plumlees claimed their rings and a third will try for his this weekend.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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