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Feb. 16, 2012
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – With a dwindling number of games left in his college career, Miles Plumlee realizes it’s no time to be tentative.
The Duke senior played the game of his career last weekend, grabbing 22 rebounds and scoring 13 points as the Blue Devils polished off Maryland 73-55. He understands he doesn’t need to match those statistics from this point, but the most important thing is to sustain the effort.
“I’m not obsessed about numbers,” he said. “I just want to bring us energy and aggressiveness every game the rest of the season. That’s my goal.”
Plumlee will get that chance tonight when Duke plays NC State in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils enter with an 8-2 ACC record, tied with Florida State (which plays Virginia Tech) and one-half game behind North Carolina.
For many seniors, there comes a point in the season when it hits home that there aren’t many games to go.
“I just keep thinking this is my last chance to lay everything on the line for my team and my program,” Plumlee said. “It’s the last chance to leave your mark on Duke basketball, so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
“Once you get halfway through the regular season, then you’re counting down how many (games) are left. There’s less ahead than there are behind. It just keeps getting shorter and shorter and you’ve got to make the most of it.”
Two years ago, senior center Brian Zoubek emerged at the same point in the season and became an important factor in the Blue Devils’ run to the national championship. So coach Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t that surprised by Plumlee’s 22 rebounds (the most by any Blue Devil player in his 32 years there).
“It would be significant if anybody did it,” Krzyzewski said, “but when a senior does it means that he has a sense of urgency … where the end is coming near, this is his last time. Sometimes for a senior that can motivate a guy to do a little bit more, do what he’s capable of doing.”
Plumlee, whose averages of 6.5 points and 6.4 rebounds are career bests, also believes he’s capable of doing more. He has been played with some great players on some great teams and made some solid contributions along the way. He has had his moments, particularly last season during Duke’s run to win the ACC Tournament and he was named second-team all-tournament.
Yet something still nags at him.
“Looking back, I still haven’t measured up to what I know I can do,” he said. “I don’t know about disappointment, but frustration to this point, there’s been that. I’ve only got so many games left to really not hold anything back and just let it all out.”
Regarded as the best athlete on the team, Plumlee has a 36-inch vertical jump and runs the court exceptionally well for someone 6-10 and 245 pounds. But he has a tendency to think too much in some games instead of letting his natural ability take over.
“I think sometimes I hold myself back from using that full potential in a game,” he said. “When you’re thinking about too many things, you get a little hesitant. You’ve got to really just go after things and let your athleticism take over. The last game I thought I did that and I need to keep that up.
“When you’re stuck inside yourself and thinking about what’s going on and analyzing everything it just slows you down and your feet aren’t where they need to be and you’re not in an athletic stance whenever you need to be. You’re just a little bit late to everything.
“So it really just undermines everything you might bring to the table, especially athleticism. When you get into a groove and you’re into what the whole team is doing and you get outside yourself, that’s when you really play to your best ability.”
Plumlee’s career high in rebounds had been 13. So where did 22 come from?
“You’ve got to go out there with reckless abandonment,” he said. “You’ve got to go after every ball and think everything is yours. There’s just a different level of aggressiveness that I found the other night and I need to continue to do that.”
So aggressive was Plumlee that he even took a few rebounds away from his brother, Mason, who wound up with his own double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“A few times I guess I did (take rebounds from Mason),” Plumlee said, “but once you get to that point there’s no going back and I was just going after everything.”
This is Miles’ Plumlee’s third season of playing college basketball with Mason, who has established himself as a starter while Miles comes off the bench. What has made this year even more special is the addition of their younger brother Marshall, who is taking a redshirt season but practices with the team.
“Honestly, it’s very hard to describe,” Miles said. “This is the best time of my life. None of us growing up could have dreamt this is how things would turn out overall.
“Having Marshall here with us, it’s given us a year I don’t think we’ve ever had since we were younger. This will be the last time we’ll be playing for the same team again so we’re just making the most of it.”
Krzyzewski said he doesn’t expect Miles Plumlee to get 22 rebounds a game the rest of the way. He was impressed with the way Plumlee pursued the ball against Maryland and brought down the rebounds with both hands.
“Hopefully that’s something he can do at a higher level than he’s done for the rest of the year,” Krzyzewski said. “You want every kid to play better. They’ve done a good job and Miles has done a good job, it’s just that he did an exceptional job on Saturday.
“But he’s had a good season. We’re 21-4 so our kids have had a good season and they’ve all contributed to it but they can all play better and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Plumlee’s effort got the attention of Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried.
“I think that he’s been a very good rebounder … and he’s a focus as we prepare in regard to how they rebound the ball,” Gottfried said. “We have to be a better rebounding team no matter who we’re playing against. That has not been a strength of ours recently. But his performance was spectacular.”
Plumlee said he understood, even welcomes, the comparisons to Zoubek two years ago.
“I can’t say anything until the season is over and I’ve had the great stretch,” he said. “I hope it does continue to draw comparisons because I want to do nothing but play my best from here on out.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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