After becoming a state champion in his native Indiana during his high school career, and spending four years at Duke under coach Mike Krzyzewski, seven footer Mason Plumlee found it simple to blend in with a Brooklyn Nets team last year with very real aspirations beyond the first round of the playoffs. In our conversation with Plumlee last week, we touched on his unending drive to get better, the self-sacrifice necessary to win, the fun of blowing up zombies and much more.
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Dime: Have you been a fan of the game for awhile? Talk to us about how you got into playing Call of Duty.
Mason Plumlee: In college it was so big because our whole team played it. And then my brothers — I mean, I’m not as good as my brothers — but it was the most fun game. Especially, the zombies. We’d all just get together, and we’d play that for — man — who knows how long. You just get into and go level by level and obviously, it never ends. We’d always try and better the time we did before and it was just a fun game where we could all get together and play.
Dime: So your brothers, you’ve got your younger brother Marshall and your older brother Miles. How much better are they?
MP: They’re significantly [better]. I’ll be honest, they pull weight when they play. That’s why I like being on their team. When they want to play against each other, I wouldn’t really do that because it’s unfair. But I’m a good role player in Call of Duty.
Dime: Some would say the same about you on the court, too.
MP: You gotta know your role. I take what I do on the court more seriously, though. I’m just doing what I got to do now, tryin’ to add to it [laughs]. Call of Duty is just I kind of was what it was.
Dime: The new Call of Duty: Advanced Warefare is out, do you bring it on the road with you in the season, or is it strictly an offseason thing?
MP: Well, I’ll keep it at home. And I’ll play it at home. To me, video games I like to play with my friends. I’ll never just play on my own. If I get some people over, or log in online, then I’ll definitely play, but I don’t travel with it.
Dime: When you play online, do people know it’s Mason Plumlee, center for the Nets?
MP: No, I only have my brothers and my friends.
Dime: So you’re not going online and taking on strangers?
MP: Nah, nah. I can’t deal with people talking s**t to me that I don’t even know.
Dime: At least in the NBA you’re facing a guy.
Dime: So lets get on to hoops. You mentioned the trash talking, and you play with someone, Kevin Garnett, who a lot of people call one of the best junk talkers of all time. What’s it like playing beside a future Hall of Famer? What are some of the things he’s taught you?
MP: Well he’s a great veteran to have. Because he’s willing to teach you what he knows. I’m not sure that all vets are as open as him, as caring about the young guys on the team. So I’ve benefitted from that immensely and really there’s no one as passionate day-to-day as Kevin. It affects the whole locker room, but especially the young guys.
Dime: [Garnett] is one of the best at switching which side the screen is coming from on offense. You guys run a lot of high screen and roll, has he given you any pointers in terms of that high screen you set for Deron [Williams]?
MP: Yeah, his biggest message, even from last year, has been ‘just play for the next guy.’ So he’s big on setting screens, making the right pass, just being about the team. Say I don’t set the screen, or I don’t get someone open, he’s calling me out for being selfish. So that’s his view of the game. If you aren’t sacrificing yourself to make someone else better, then you’re playing selfish — whether you’re taking a shot or not. So, he just has a higher level of understanding for the game. He’s very vocal too, so you’re going to know what he thinks as a teammate.
Dime: That team-first philosophy you mentioned about Garnett and I’m sure Coach K preached while you were at Duke —
MP: That’s just the way that you play. It doesn’t matter what team you’re on; it doesn’t matter if you’re at the YMCA playing pickup, that’s just who you are as a player. If that becomes who you are, you can’t just turn it on and off.
Dime: Was that something where you’ve always been like that, or was that something you developed?
MP: Yeah, I’ve always been about the team, since high school. I played on a team in high school that was very good and we won a lot of championships. You know, those were teams where no guy was averaging over 15 points per game. And in high school to be on a team and nobody’s really scoring in bunches, that’s rare. It was kind of the same way in college. We had a lot of good players on the team in college — I mean at Duke we had guys put up big numbers — but it was always about the team and trying to win for Duke.
Dime: Do you think if you became the primary, or the focal point, of the offense, you’d be able to transition to that role, where you are that primary guy?
MP: Yeah, I would love that. Of course that has to be earned. So I’m just trying to show the coaches and the team that I can handle what they’re giving me right now. That opportunity will come — there’s no doubt about that, but when you have a team with Joe [Johnson], and Brook [Lopez] and Deron [Williams]…those guys, they’re guys who have done it and done it for a lot of seasons. So I just have to prove myself.
Dime: Last season you got a little more playing time after Brook went down. Has it been different because you’re not getting quite as much playing time and even playing some at the four when you’re not backing him up?
MP: Yeah. It’s been an adjustment because I played more last year. Like I started the last — I don’t know how many regular season games [it was around 20] and my minutes were way up. Now we got the whole team back, a new staff, new system, it’s all an ajustment. But I’m sure — like last year was my first year, it was an adjustment for those guys last year adjusting to J-Kidd’s [Jason Kidd] system. I think it’s just part of the league, and I’m getting introduced to that part of it. But it’s early in the season, and I think we’ll figure out what fits our team best, and how I can help our team in the minutes that I do play.
Dime: Speaking of J-Kidd, did you see what the Nets owner [Mikhail Prokhorov] said about beating Kidd, when he had a press conference a couple weeks ago?
MP: No, I didn’t. What did he say?
Dime: He quoted an American proverb, that read, ‘Don’t let the door hit you, where the good Lord split you.” Does the team have any extra incentive when you do face the Bucks.
MP: [Laughs] No, none other than we just need a win. I’ve been consistent, and I liked playing for Jason Kidd, he was a great coach for me as a rookie. But this is a business at the end of the day. I think that’s where this is coming from, a businessman whose running his business. So I don’t get too tied up into that. But it wasn’t all bad here. We won one round of the playoffs. We really turned the season around last year. At the midway point I thought we started playing really well. But then the business side comes in and there’s a lot of movement. That’s all that was. I feel motivated every game, so that’s [playing the Bucks] not really going to change for me.
Dime: When stuff like that happens during the summer — obviously you were playing in the World Cup — how does that affect you? Like, you always knew what Coach K’s system would be each year at Duke. Has it been hard to make that adjustment?
MP: It has been. But it’s easier when the coach has had success the way he coaches. So I’ve been a fan of the NBA for a while, and I watched Lionel win 50 plus games with Memphis for however many years, and they’re always tough in the playoffs. So you know the end result is going to be good. You just have to buy in early and figure out what the coach wants. I will say, with all the stuff that was going on over the summer, I talked to Kevin [Garnett] about it, and I asked him, ‘you know what’s going on,’ and this is when we didn’t have a coach. And he was like, ‘I don’t know man, just control what you can control. Stay in shape, work on your game, come back a better player next year.’ And that’s really all — as a player — you can do. You know I’m encouraged, even though we’ve lost our last two games [Ed Note: we conducted the interview when the Nets were 4-4 after dropping a game to the Warriors] I think we’re growing. At this point last season we were losing games by 20-25 points. We’re right there in every game, so if we start executing and finishing down the stretch, we’ll get this thing turned around.
Dime: Definitely. It seems odd that Joe Johnson said the team was being selfish on offense since with you, KG and some of the other players on the team, it’s not really that sort of me-first group. Do you have any idea what Joe was thinking when he said that?
MP: Um, I think he just wanted to see the ball move a little more. I haven’t — you know what’s crazy after all the media and stuff following us after those [comments] nobody’s really asked me what I thought about them, so [laughs]. I just think he wanted to see more ball movement. You know Orlando was a game where we won, but I think he thought we should have played better down the stretch and won probably by more than we did. It’s just Joe wants us to be good this year; he wants us to win, so he’s going to speak his mind and say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get us on track to be a good team. So I don’t blame him for speaking his mind. I think it was good because then we could hash it out in the locker room.
Dime: Have you noticed — even though since those comments you’ve dropped a couple — have you noticed the ball whipping around a little bit faster since then? Has it taken affect?
MP: Yeah, I think guys are more — we watch the television together, and we’re in tune with what works when we’re playing well, and then when we don’t execute what we’re doing differently. Like I said, it’s early in the season. Of course you want to win every game, but we’re learning. I think what’s most encouraging is we’re getting better in each game, even though it’s not resulting in wins right now.
Dime: How far along do you guys think you are, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, which Lionel is obviously very good at?
MP: Yeah, I think there’s been — the whole system has changed: offensively and defensively. But I think if you asked coach Hollins we’re not close to where he wants us to be, but we are improving and he’ll get us right eventually.
What do you think?
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