When Mason Plumlee came to Duke in 2009, he was a highly touted recruit who was expected to come in and become a dominant force for the Blue Devils. His older brother, Miles, had shown some incredible athletic ability and many expected Mason to be an even better athlete.
However, instead of taking the college basketball world by storm, he struggled to keep up with the speed of the game and averaged about 4 points in 15 minutes per game. To his credit, he became part of a unique frontcourt rotation that Mike Krzyzewski used to guide Duke to a National Championship, rotating in with his brother to relieve Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas.
Following the 2009-10 season, there was actually some speculation Mason would declare for the NBA Draft because scouts were drooling over his athleticism and potential. But Plumlee never seriously considered leaving after his freshman year and many were excited to see how he would develop in year two at Duke.
Yet, in Plumlee's sophomore year, he got lost in the shuffle of a team that was more perimeter oriented. When Kyrie Irving went down with a toe injury, there probably wasn't anyone on the team more impacted by the injury than Mason. Irving's ability to create on the offensive end and set up his teammates would have been a huge asset for Plumlee. Instead, Plumlee's year is similar to what many Duke fans think about that season - "Oh what could have been..."
Then came Mason Plumlee's junior year. With the departure of Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Kyrie Irving from the previous season, this was to become Mason's team and his time. He was expected to be able to do it all - run, rebound, defend, pass, and show the low post skills he'd developed during the previous two years. And there were times last year, when we saw all of those things from him.
Unfortunately, there were many other times when we didn't see any of it. He would shy away from contact or look to pass instead of making an aggressive move toward the basket. He would commit ridiculous fouls or look completely lost on a defensive possession. And his free throw shooting was abysmal. I think many fans were starting to wonder if the light was ever going to come on.
Still, scouts in the NBA continued to be interested in Mason's "potential" and his athleticism. If you've seen him run the court in transition and finish with a dunk, you can understand why. But after his junior year and a chance at being a first-round pick, Plumlee decided to continue to work on his game at Duke and return to school for his senior year.
Enter: this year's Mason Plumlee.
For everyone who'd been wondering if the light would ever come on, that question has been answered. The Mason Plumlee we're seeing this season, his senior season, has been the best player in the country. He has been consistent on both ends of the floor, making strong offensive plays and avoiding costly mistakes on the defensive end. He has been more assertive with his post moves and he now establishes position and demands the ball. And his free throw percentage has been a revelation - now shooting nearly 80%. He's gone from being a player who would show flashes of greatness to a player who is routinely putting together 20 & 15 performances without anyone really noticing.
Even if you're not a fan of Duke, there's a lot to like about Mason Plumlee and his career. His story is the one we often forget in college basketball. We tend to write a guy off when he comes to school with a lot of hype and doesn't live up to it immediately. Or, the guy comes in for a year and then decides to cash in on his potential and go to the NBA, where he sits the bench for three years. Plumlee is a story of dedication, hard work, and making the most of the opportunity to play college basketball. Now, he has become an early candidate for National Player of the Year and he will graduate with a degree from one of the best universities in the country. If things continue to go the right way, he might even leave with a second National Championship.
Mason Plumlee has put in the time. And now, it appears to be his time.