Mar 21, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Mason Plumlee (5) during press conference the day before the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

Duke Basketball: A Farewell to Mason Plumlee

Mason Plumlee put together an impressive four-year career at Duke University, and the senior All-American deserves a heartfelt farewell.

The first time I ever saw Plumlee was in the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest back in 2009. Back then, I payed a lot of attention to Duke basketball, but I couldn’t name a basketball recruit to save my life. Because of this, these all-star high school contests were always my annual introduction to the future stars of college basketball, and I always went into them not having the slightest clue who had signed with Duke or even if they were just considering Duke.

So, when Mason Plumlee strolled out for the dunk contest and the announcers said he was a future Blue Devil, I immediately switched my full attention away from whatever food I was eating that night and directly towards the television set. This was my intro and first impression of Plumlee: a tall white guy with about as much muscle definition as a cooked spaghetti noodle. He didn’t appear to be that athletic, as athletes approaching 7’0 rarely are, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

His first dunk was a bit mundane. A teammate tossed the ball off the side of the backboard and Plumlee dunked it. It wasn’t the most impressive of dunks by far, but he started making up for immediately. In his next attempt, he lobbed a ball up, ran under it, jumped up, caught up, spun around and threw in the dunk all in one swift, fluid motion. For a high school kid, it was beyond impressive. The athleticism for a player his size was even more impressive. I was intrigued.

Plumlee threw down a couple more impressive dunks before settling for second place in the contest. At that time, I wasn’t very good at all when it came to evaluating basketball talent, but it was evident Plumlee was going to be, at the very least, above-average.

His first couple seasons at Duke were largely insignificant. He performed admirably, logging a total of 5.7 WS in the time-span, but he had yet to become the dominant post-player we were all waiting for. Every now and then, we would catch a glimpse of potential via a spectacular dunk or a nifty defensive play in the paint, but we were all still waiting for a breakout.

Then, at the start of his junior season, things began to click. He opened the season with a double-double performance against Belmont, pouring in 13 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He would go on to score 65 points over a particularly difficult 5 game stretch that saw the Blue Devils play Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, Colorado State and Washington. Slowly but surely, he was becoming a consistent force. In Duke’s opening-round loss to Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, Plumlee put the entire team on his back, scoring 19 points on 9-9 shooting, turning in the only real positive performance from a Blue Devil that afternoon.

And when he announced he would return to Duke for his senior season, fans recognized that the sky was the limit. Plumlee was as good as a big man as there was in the nation, and he would likely be right at Indiana’s Cody Zeller’s level in the eyes of most fans.

We all saw what happened this year. Zeller and Plumlee spent the first half dancing around the opposition, and by the midpoint of the season, the two were neck and neck in the race for NPOY. Plumlee was unbelievably fun to watch. His post-game had improved to the point where he could create looks for himself almost effortlessly, and he had become strong enough to where he could be a force in the paint on defense. Even his biggest flaw, free-throw shooting, had taken a dramatic step forward. The dominance of Plumlee wasn’t just the opinion of Duke fans, either, as he was being frequently mentioned in every single conversation for player of the year and all-american awards.

He would see his production drop a small amount in conference play, as the ACC was loaded with big, physical post players, but he still managed to reach double figures in 16 of Duke’s 19 ACC contests, including a 30-point performance against NC State on February 7th.

By the end of the year, he was having awards showered upon him. He was named to the Second-team AP All-American team. He took home the 2013 POTGOTY Award. He nearly took the Blue Devils to the Final Four, as the Blue Devils lost to a highly motivated and incredibly talented Louisville team in the Elite Eight. It was, by all measures, a phenomenally successful season for Plumlee.

When I look back at his entire career, the word that comes to mind is ‘progress’. Plumlee took a major step forward every single season, going from average player, to slightly above average, to very good player, to great player. He developed every aspect of his game during his time in Durham, becoming a big man with an all-around game, rather than just the dunks and blocks player he was when he arrived.

I’m not one-hundred percent certain that Plumlee will be a good player in the NBA, because it is so difficult to predict prospects. Some guys have the ability to adapt to the NBA and some don’t. I will tell you this, though: Plumlee’s ability to improve whatever part of his game needs it is phenomenal, and if doesn’t succeed at the next level, he’ll probably die trying.

Plumlee’s performance in the NBA isn’t important at this time, though. Every article I write about Plumlee after this point will likely relate to his NBA career, and I just want to write about Mason the Blue Devil one last time.

So, here is to Plumlee, a guy who came in a a noodle and left a slightly more-muscular noodle with a sky hook and some serious talent. He gave us four strong years and he pulled in a rebound in Duke’s National Championship win over Butler. I don’t know if that rebound had any significance in the grand scheme of things, but for this article’s sake let’s pretend it did. Thank you, Plumlee, for pulling that HUGE rebound in the Championship against Butler.

But seriously. Thank you, Mason, for four wonderful years. Best of luck to you in the rest of your basketball career and beyond.

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