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Plumlee Makes Team USA; The Goal is Gold

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

The dream started taking shape some 18 years ago, when Mason Plumlee’s parents took him to see the 1996 U.S. Olympic team play an exhibition game.

“I remember seeing Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, it was that team," said Plumlee. "They were really good. They won by about 50 or 60. I remember just being in awe.

“As soon as I saw that team I said, ‘I want to do this.’ It’s a special opportunity. I couldn’t be happier."

The dream came true early Saturday morning when USA Basketball announced that the Brooklyn Nets power forward/center was one of 12 players selected to represent this country in the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Plumlee originally was invited to join the Select Team. That group was supposed to be nothing more than practice fodder for the Elite team.

But by the time the team broke camp in Las Vegas, the 6-11, 235-pound Plumlee had been called up to the Elite team and had been told a spot on the roster was his to lose.

He continued to cement his place as the first center off the bench behind Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans with his solid play. Plumlee scored four points on 2-of-3 shooting, grabbed five rebounds and made two steals in the team’s 112-86 win over Puerto Rico Friday night.

“The first day, when I was on the Select Team and we were practicing against the older guys, I had my best practice, probably offensively,’’ Plumlee said. “I scored the most. I created a lot of things. That’s what pulled me up to practice with the Elite guys. To me, I gained respect among Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, those guys."

For Plumlee, 24, this accomplishment has special meaning. He has friends that have served in the military, as well as close relatives on both sides of his family."

When the team practiced at West Point on Monday, Plumlee felt a deep connection with the men and women in uniform."

"Coach K says it best: ‘This is the greatest team in the world."’ Plumlee said.

The U.S. team has one more tuneup against Slovenia on August 26 (2 p.m.; ESPN2) before beginning play in the FIBA World Cup against Finland on August 30 (3:30 p.m.; ESPN).

“As an organization we are excited for Mason," said Nets GM Billy King. “He has worked extremely hard to put himself in this position."

That has been Plumlee’s M.O. throughout his career at Duke and his rookie season with the Nets. He works hard at his craft and plays within himself.

There’s little doubt Plumlee’s role on the Nets will be more significant in 2014-15 and this experience with the National Team will prove to be a tremendous benefit.

“I think I’m a much better player,’’ Plumlee said. “Much more confident. Much more trusting of my skills and what I can do. Really, how I played in the games and with this team is similar to how I played in Brooklyn. But doing it at the highest level with other talent on the floor, it gives you confidence. That’s something I’ll carry forward to the next season."

As he stood in the hallway leading to the U.S. locker room after the win over Puerto Rico, Plumlee shared a moment with King before meeting with the media. He talked about how he’s learned from playing with the likes of James Harden and Stephen Curry, how confident and decisive they are with the ball.

When asked if it sunk in, realizing this dream that began when he was an eight-year-old, Plumlee nodded.

“It’s a dream come true,’’ Plumlee said. “It’s a great step in the right direction for me as a player. It’s something I’m proud of but I’m also grateful for it. It’s a responsibility.

“Making the team is not the goal. Winning the gold is the goal."

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