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Duke's Plumlee brothers rely on encouraging words from father
Friday, Dec 3, 2010
By Joshua Cooley

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)--The text messages have started arriving.

They might be Psalm 37:4, Ephesians 6:10 or other motivating passages of Scripture, but Miles and Mason Plumlee can expect to receive periodic infusions of encouragement from God’s Word on their cell phones now that the swirling cauldron of the NCAA basketball season has arrived. Millard “Perky” Plumlee started the practice last year to steady his two oldest sons as they experienced the chaotic ride of winning a national championship with Duke University.

Miles and Mason —both 6-foot-10 starting forwards — will need it this year, too. Winning an NCAA title is hard enough; defending it is exponentially more difficult. In the last 37 years, only the 1991-92 Duke and 2006-07 Florida teams have pulled it off.

What’s more, the Plumlee brothers will be expected to assume much greater leadership and scoring roles this season with the departure of several key starters from the 2009-10 team.

Text away, Perky.

“With all the pressure, how do you keep the appropriate balance?” he asked rhetorically. “How do you keep your joy and peace in midst of all that?”

It helps to have good roots. Miles (a junior) and Mason (a sophomore) grew up in a tight-knit Christian family in Winona Lake, Ind., a quaint, northeastern nook of Hoosier country that prides itself on being the hometown of Billy Sunday, the famous early-20th century evangelist. It’s a place where the top headlines of the area’s 156-year-old newspaper, the Times-Union, include the local Elks Club’s 30th annual Thanksgiving dinner and a road-resurfacing project.

Perky and Leslie raised their four children — including younger siblings Marshall (18) and Madeline (15) — at Warsaw Community Church and actively taught them God’s Word. Both Miles and Mason prayed to receive Christ around age 5.

“Growing up, my parents always took us to church, and we went to Sunday school,” Mason said. “It’s been kind of neat here at college because you’re on your own and you get to make your own decisions, but I’ve been involved in a small group and found a good church to go to on Sundays.”

Perky and Leslie also taught their boys a thing or two about basketball. Perky, 6-foot-7, played at Tennessee Tech, while Leslie, at 6-1, played at Purdue.

“A lot of dinner conversations are over basketball,” Mason said.

As Miles and Mason kept maturing physically and athletically, it became apparent that local Warsaw Community High School might limit their potential. So in 2006, when Miles was a junior and Mason a sophomore, the family sent them to Christ School, an Episcopal boarding school in Asheville, N.C., that was recommended by one of Perky’s old college friends. Marshall now plays there as a highly touted 6-foot-11 senior.

The Plumlees’ decision to transfer homegrown talent to a glitzy East Coast basketball factory caused a stir in old-fashioned Hoosier country.

“It’s something that had never been done around here,” Perky said. “It was a very difficult decision we made, and it wasn’t a popular decision. We believed that it was a key decision for their development.”

Miles and Mason both excelled at Christ School, but Mason commanded a greater spotlight. As a 2009 McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American, he helped lead the Greenies to three state championships and a 99-8 record in three years. Miles, a two-time all-state selection, was instrumental in two of those seasons.

Miles originally committed to Stanford, but when former coach Trent Johnson took the job at Louisiana State in April 2008, he reopened his recruitment and signed with Duke a month later.

As a sophomore last season, Miles started the first 24 games before ceding his spot to center Brian Zoubek and becoming Duke’s sixth man. He finished the season averaging 5.2 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.

Mason, who joined Miles in Durham last season, saw limited action in 34 games as a freshman after missing the first six with a fractured left wrist. He averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds a game. Neither brother scored in the NCAA final, when Duke beat national darling Butler in a nail-biter, 61-59, for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth championship.

Still, the Blue Devils will lean on the Plumlees much more heavily this year in the absence of Zoubek and fellow 2010 seniors Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas, who combined for nearly 30 points per game.

“Miles is really in a position to establish himself as one of the best post players in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “And I think Mason is crossing the bridge from someone who shows flashes of being really good, to being really good all the time. I think those two guys can match up, when they’re at their best, with any two other post guys in the country.”

So who wins one on one?

“Oh boy,” Perky said. “You could just flip a coin. They could play 50 times, and it’d be a dead heat.”

Off the court, the brothers display a few unique personality traits. Miles, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is more introverted than Mason. Miles loves video games to unwind, while Mason prefers movies.

“Miles is probably a little more reserved,” their father said. “Mason is a little more outgoing. They’re both kind of evolving, too. Miles is not a shrinking violet. He can speak up for himself pretty well.”

“We’re more similar than different, to be honest,” Mason said.

Soon, a third Plumlee will join Duke’s ranks. In July, Marshall committed to the Blue Devils, giving the team the opportunity to feature three brothers on the same roster for the first time in ACC history, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

That is, of course, if Miles and Mason don’t turn professional after this season. They are already on NBA radars. Last summer, they worked as college counselors at the Adidas Nations in Chicago, an elite prep showcase tournament that draws scouts from many NBA teams. Marshall played on one of the U.S. teams.

“I’ve gotten feedback that both [older] boys are projected to have pro potential,” Perky said. “We try to keep them from thinking about that. If they perform well enough and opportunity presents itself, we’ll think about it.”

Perky, for the record, can’t answer who’s the best player of his three sons. Each of them brings a different flair to the court. Mason is probably the most creative playmaker of the bunch, while Miles has the better ability to score in bunches. And Marshall, unlike his more perimeter-minded brothers, has always been a back-to-the-basket player.

“People always ask, ‘Who’s better?’” Perky said. “It’s hard to answer. It’s like, what’s better — roast beef, ham or turkey? I don’t know. It depends on what you need.”

For now, the biggest question facing the older Plumlee brothers is if they can help No. 1 Duke hang another championship banner from the hallowed rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke is 6-0 on the season.

The Plumlees are averaging a combined 15 points per game, and expectations are sky-high.

“I think we have a great team,” Mason said. “Last year, we won every tournament we were in, we won the ACC [tournament], and I think those are expectations for us again — to win the ACC and be the best team in the country.”

Keep texting, Dad.

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