Oh, brother! 3 Plumlees at Duke
DURHAM — When Duke refers to its basketball family this year they’ll probably be talking about the Plumlees.
The Blue Devils have three Plumlee brothers on the team: Senior Miles and younger brothers Mason, a junior, and Marshall, a freshman. That’s just the third time that’s happened at a Division I school and the first time since the 1950s.
“It’s already been unbelievable,” Miles Plumlee said. “It’s been the best year for me so far already, just being able to spend time with them and all of us being together. I couldn’t have imagined this would ever happen growing up, but it has, and you just want to take advantage of it.”
The other set of brothers were Matthew, Thomas and William Brennan, who played at Villanova in 1957-58; and Bucky, Harold and Terry Bockhorn, who played at Dayton that season.
All three Plumlee brothers are 6-foot-10 or taller and at least 225 pounds. That adds up to 20 feet, 7 inches, and 705 pounds of Plumlees banging the boards for the sixth-ranked Blue Devils.
Duke opens Friday night against Belmont as a top contender for a 12th Final Four and fifth national championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“It’s awesome for us. We couldn’t be more happy that everybody’s here,” Mason said. “At the same time, it’ll make for good practices, and it’ll make it easier on our parents. … They only have to travel to Durham and a couple away games.”
The brothers’ first college game together will mark the latest step in a basketball journey that began when Miles was a second-grader.
That’s when they moved across Indiana from West Lafayette to Warsaw, to a new house with an adjustable hoop in the driveway. That’s how their 6-7 father Millard — a former player at Tennessee Tech nicknamed “Perky” — and mother Leslie — a former 6-1 Purdue player — introduced them to the sport.
Back then, Miles and Mason would team up and play two-on-two against Marshall and their father — when the two older brothers weren’t facing off against each other with Dad refereeing.
Perky Plumlee jokingly called it “cheap entertainment.” Miles admitted things would get heated in those one-on-one battles, quipping that “it wasn’t always like, literally, a fight, but we never finished a lot of the games.”
“Growing up, there was always a bit of a physical difference — Miles and Mason were always pretty competitive with one another, but I was always smaller and a little weaker and a couple of years behind,” Marshall said. “So there were a lot of one-on-one-games with them, and I’d get in when I could, but I didn’t have much of a chance. So this is a new experience, getting here to Duke and I’m finally getting to the point where I can be competitive athletically, and it’s a new feeling. I like it.”
The brothers traveled similar paths from Warsaw to Durham, attending a boarding high school at Christ School in tiny Arden, N.C., an unincorporated area south of Asheville in the state’s western mountains.
Middle brother Mason committed to Duke during his junior year while Miles signed to play at Stanford. When Trent Johnson left the Cardinal for LSU, Miles asked for and received a release from his letter-of-intent. Krzyzewski told the family he was interested — but only if that was OK with Mason.
“Mason didn’t hesitate,” Perky Plumlee said. “He said, ‘That’d be great. I’d love it if you’d recruit Miles.’”
Everything lined up for the brothers to have one season together after Marshall, a four-star prospect, signed with Duke last fall, and Mason — who appeared in several online mock NBA drafts in the spring — opted to return to school for his junior year, saying the allure of playing with his brothers was one of the factors in his decision.
“Even at the next level, that would never happen — if we’re fortunate enough to get there,” Mason said. “I wouldn’t say it was the biggest factor, but it did factor in.”
The brothers seem to be having a blast together so far. At Duke’s version of midnight madness, they turned the dunk contest into quite the family affair.
Miles got some help on his first attempt from Mason, who flipped the ball off the side of the backboard before Miles swooped in to jam it home. That set up a brother-vs.-brother showdown between Marshall and Miles in the final — and Marshall wound up being an accomplice on his big brother’s winning slam.
Marshall stood in the lane with his eyes covered while Miles hurdled him for a one-handed jam that drew straight 10s from the judges.
“We haven’t really talked about it, but I can definitely say we’ve all enjoyed being together so far,” Marshall said. “It’s definitely something we’re not going to take for granted. We’re all pushing each other to try to make one another better, and more than anything, just spending time together is a lot of fun.
“It’s something that we’ll have for the rest of our lives together.”