Nets Center Could Land Coveted Spot on World Cup Roster
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Going from afterthought to highly thought-of is becoming a trend for Nets center Mason Plumlee.
Just over a year ago on NBA Draft Night at the Barclays Center, the 7-footer was selected by Brooklyn in the opening round, but spent most of the evening answering questions about his soon-to-be new teammates Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry.
Little did anyone know at the time that Plumlee would prove just as vital to the Nets’ second straight push to the playoffs as any of those highly accomplished championship-level players, two of whom are no longer with the team.
All the Duke alum did in his first full NBA season was lead all rookies in shooting percentage (66 percent) while also ranking atop the list of first-year players in efficiency rating (19.0), win shares (4.7) and true shooting percentage (67).
After Nets All-Star center Brook Lopez went down for the season with a foot injury before the turn of the New Year, and Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko both struggled with back spasms throughout the campaign, Plumlee helped make sure the Nets remained afloat.
He boosted Brooklyn to a 16-6 record in the 22 games he started and averaged 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and almost a block per game while logging just over 18 minutes per night.
Plumlee, who was ultimately named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team unit, also emerged as a fan favorite for his ferocious dunks, hard-charging up-and-down-the-court style and his memorable rejection of LeBron James at the buzzer that helped the Nets complete a four-game regular-season sweep of Miami.
Just last week, in yet another afterthought moment, Plumlee was called in off the street by his former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as a late fill-in to help balance out the then-19 man Team USA roster assembled in Las Vegas.
You see, it’s not easy breaking up into two 5-on-5 squads when you don’t have 20 players available, so Coach K needed someone to help the U.S. team prepare for the upcoming FIBA World Cup Championships to be held in Spain.
Plumlee, always amiable and hardworking, was more than happy to lend a hand to his old coach, who is the mastermind, along with managing director Jerry Colangelo, of the current USA squad.
One week later, Plumlee has emerged as much more than a hired hand.
He is now a legitimate candidate to travel to Bilbao for Team USA’s World Cup opener against Finland on Aug. 30 as Krzyzewski and Colangelo officially revealed the 16 players who would compete for the final 12 spots.
"It's quite an honor to be added to the National Team and to be a finalist for the World Cup roster," said Plumlee. “I am very much looking forward to training camp in Chicago as the next step in representing our country as a member of USA Basketball."
“He’s in consideration, no doubt,” added Krzyzewski.
And just like that, the man off the street is suddenly in position to don the red-white-and-blue as the Nets’ lone representative on a team loaded with NBA stars like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.
Krzyzewski, who had Plumlee for four years and a national championship at Duke, believes the fast-emerging big man has a real shot at earning a spot on the team as it prepares for its first set of exhibition contests at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 20 and 22.
“Well, in Mason's case, he's basically doing what he did his senior year at Duke when he was rated the top big guy in the country,” Coach K noted. “He talks enthusiastic, rim runs, really runs the court well and plays good defense.
“Being with the Nets and being around veterans I think only helped him more, especially being around Kevin Garnett, and he's an easy guy to play with for these guys,” he added. “He doesn't need the ball long and does the dirty work but is an athlete, a big athlete, and hopefully can be a good defender.”
Plumlee, no stranger to “dirty work”, understands what his coach will need from him in the coming weeks, be it at practice or during games.
"There’s a lot to it," Plumlee said. "You know you have to be a great screener to play for [Coach K]. You have to be on the boards all the time. There are different things you have to see as a big man. Like, in our half-court sets, you’re going to be a playmak er-passer from the elbow. So, there’s a lot that goes into it. Just because you aren’t putting the ball in the hole, there’s a lot more to it."
“He’s active,” added Colangelo of Plumlee. “Giving him an opportunity to play with the USA Team, that puts him in a position where he could earn himself a spot [on the final 12-man roster]. It’s possible.”
Regardless of whether he gets a plane ticket to Spain or not in the coming weeks, Plumlee remains steadfast that his experience with Team USA will be a positive one for him going forward.
“It’s been awesome. I was just sitting here watching the other guys work out,” he said. “It really is a blessing to be here and you can pick up so much in so little time. You get to watch the guys work out after practice. You get to play against them.
“There’s no better place to be right now in basketball.”
And there’s no better basketball player to be right now than Mason Plumlee, who just keeps going from afterthought to highly thought-of.
All the way to Team USA!