Plumlee Proving He Belongs – Again!

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

EAST RUTHERFORD – Maybe it’s time to stop second-guessing Mason Plumlee.

Maybe it’s time to consider that a player chosen with the 22nd pick can make a team, make an impact, maybe even develop into an NBA star.

Maybe it’s time for the naysayers to stop finding excuses for Plumlee’s success – excuses that, frankly, are getting old.

When the Brooklyn Nets took him in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, the naysayers claimed it was a modern version of the Old Boys Club at work:

Plumlee played at Duke. Nets GM Billy King played at Duke. You can do the math. But after he averaged 7.5 points on 65.9-percent shooting, grabbed 4.5 rebounds and made the All-Rookie First Team, the argument that Plumlee’s selection was a favor went out with the trash.

Plumlee is facing the same old, same old again.

He was invited to join the USA Select Team, which was supposed to provide practice fodder for the NBA stars that will make up the USA World Cup team. But Plumlee, with support from Chicago’s Derrick Rose, kept doing what he does best – talk on defense, set bone-crunching picks on offense, and take smart shots that came within the flow of play. When the 2014-2016 USA Basketball National Team roster was announced on Tuesday, Plumlee was one of 16 players moving forward. He has a good chance of being one of the 12 players that will comprise the 2014 World Cup roster.

Where’s the rub? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski coaches the team. Plumlee played for Coach K. Sound familiar?

Initially, Plumlee was irked by suggestions that he hasn’t earned everything he’s gotten.

“Yeah, initially,’’ Plumlee said. “But at the end of the day, they just don’t know. If anybody knows Coach K, he didn’t get to where he is by doing favors for people. He’d be the first person to get me out of there if I wasn’t cutting it. He’s all about winning, and by playing for him for four years, I know that. “Now, I have an advantage in knowing what he’s looking for from me, but he didn’t win gold medals, he didn’t win world championships by doing favors for people. It’s just that simple.’’

Plumlee acknowledged there was an acclimation process, both mentally and physically.

“As a player you dream and think anything can happen,’’ Plumlee said. “They sat us down on the Select Team the first day and said, ‘Look, nobody’s gonna get pulled up. Don’t come out here coming at guys.’ “Because younger guys, you make it about me against [Kevin] Durant or me against Kyrie [Irving]. They’re like, ‘This isn’t that. Just play as a team. You’re here to get us ready to play the international guys.’ So it was just the opposite. But then they had 19, so they decided to pull one up.’’

Plumlee got pulled. He’s been pushing ever since.

He struggled in the first half of Friday night’s scrimmage. But at halftime, Rose told Plumlee to relax and play his game. Plumlee did, scoring 10 points in the third quarter. At 6-10, 245 pounds, Plumlee gives Coach K a mobile big man who runs the court. There are more talented big men on the roster, such as DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond, but the international game requires a team to have flexibility.

It’s déjà vu all over again for Plumlee. After being drafted, the popular opinion had Plumlee playing in the D-League. He never bought that.

And now he’s not buying the popular notion that he won’t make the U.S. squad.

“I have a very good chance,’’ he said. “I had a strong week of practice and we’ll have a whole month to show more. To me there are maybe five, six, seven guys that are locks, and then the rest are playing for those last couple spots. It’ll go to whoever fits what coach wants best.’’

One thing is certain: Plumlee will wear the USA jersey with pride.

“It would mean a lot,’’ Plumlee said. “It’s a dream, every kid’s dream to play for the national team. I’m growing up and it’s still my dream. It would mean a lot. I’ve had family fight for the country. I appreciate the sacrifice those people have made, and that’s why I’m really looking forward to the whole experience. Looking forward to practicing at West Point. It’s just a good experience to be a part of.’’

So is proving the second-guessers wrong.

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