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MASON PLUMLEE CAN'T REMEMBER WHEN HE FIRST PICKED UP A BASKETBALL. HIS 6' 7" father, Millard (nicknamed Perky), played center at Tennessee Tech. His six-foot mother, Leslie, played forward-center at Purdue and set the school's single-game rebounding record (25) in 1981. Perky and Leslie met at a Boilermakers summer basketball camp and then, years later, settled down in Warsaw, Ind., to raise three boys (Miles, Mason and Marshall) and a girl (Madeline). Which is all to say that their middle son's first dribble came probably around the same time as his first breath. "As long as I can remember, we were playing basketball," Mason recalls. "And in Indiana, it's just what everyone does."
But almost no one has done what the Plumlees have, which is place three sons—all of whom are between 6' 10" and 6' 11"—on the same Division I squad. It's only the third time that has happened in NCAA history (after Villanova's Brennans and Dayton's Bockhorns, both during the 1957--58 season). "With all that size and all that skill, to be on the same college team at the same time is really amazing," associate head coach Chris Collins says. "It's fun just watching them interact."
Collecting a Plumlee triumvirate wasn't the original plan, however. It all started with Mason, who committed to the Blue Devils as a high school junior in 2008. That made Durham a sensible landing spot for oldest brother Miles, who was Stanford-bound until then Cardinal coach Trent Johnson left for LSU. Mason says that young Marshall, a Duke freshman this season, later made his college choice independently, but by then the choice seemed obvious—as did the boost to a Blue Devils roster in need of interior depth. "We've had explosive perimeter guys, and that's been the focus," Collins says. "But we need to have greater balance."
The Plumlees provide exactly that. While 225-pound Marshall will likely spend his first year on the fringes of the rotation, Miles (245 pounds) and Mason (235) are expected to start, trusted to fortify Duke's three-guard attack from the paint. Miles, regarded as the most physical and athletic of the three, has the more developed low-post game and boasts a 36-inch vertical leap, highest on the Blue Devils; Mason, meanwhile, "probably has the best skill package," Collins says.
That Mason, who names "skilled power forwards" like Kevin Garnett and Amar'e Stoudemire as his on-court models, can run and pass and handle the ball with agility are just some of the reasons he's commonly projected as a first-round draft choice in June. In fact, he mulled leaving after last season, giving rise on one popular Duke message board to a five-page thread: The Mason Plumlee NBA Draft Vigil.
Mason didn't depart, though, in part because feedback from the coaching staff and his parents made it clear that he still has plenty of room to improve. There's his free throw shooting—an abysmal 44.1%—and, most pressingly, his level of offensive and defensive aggression underneath the basket, which must be ratcheted way up if he's to evolve into an elite player.
Fixing that will partly be a matter of focus. "When you're that skilled, you have a tendency to want to [be everywhere]," Collins explains. "We just need to get these guys the ball in the paint." For a Plumlee, of course, that much is nothing new.