DURHAM, N.C. — With his teammates already in their Duke blue practice uniforms on Friday, Marshall Plumlee dressed in far more formal attire with practice looming at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A redshirt junior center, basketball was pushed aside, just momentarily, for a ceremony that solidified a life-changing decision.
With Duke captains Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson holding an American flag as a backdrop, Plumlee wore a formal Army ROTC uniform as he took the oath during his personal Army ROTC contracting ceremony.
He also signed a contract, which admits him to the Advanced Course, a component of cadet command which allows Plumlee to work toward becoming an officer in the United States Army.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Plumlee said. “I’m just blessed to have these passions — basketball and the Army — and to be able to pursue both of them. I love basketball. I love Duke basketball and I feel like the Army only makes me a better basketball player. I feel like playing for Coach K and Duke basketball only makes me a better Army officer.”
— Duke Basketball (@dukebasketball) January 24, 2015
Plumlee has already completed two years in Duke’s Army ROTC Basic Course. Members of the Blue Devil Eagle battalion were also present for Friday’s ceremony.
Lt. Col. Keirya Langkamp presided over the event.
“This is a pretty historical moment,” Langkamp said. “Things like this don’t happen very often. It’s magical when you get someone of [Plumlee’s] caliber, that’s part of such an extraordinary team, the Duke basketball team. He’s already part of an amazing group of men. Now he’s part of something bigger.”
Plumlee said he’d always been interested in the Army while growing up. That feeling intensified during his junior year of high school when he traveled with USA Basketball to Germany and met with Gen. Robert Brown.
Plumlee’s older brothers, Mason and Miles, were already playing basketball at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate and former Army coach. Marshall Plumlee was headed to Duke, too.
Coincidentally, the 6-foot-7 Brown played for Krzyzewski at Army back in the 1970s.
“I told him I had an interest in the military and he pulled me aside and helped me cultivate that,” Marshall Plumlee said. “That’s a friendship that’s grown over the last few years as he has become a two-star and now a three-star general.”
— Marshall Plumlee
Plumlee traveled with Duke director of basketball operations Pat Thompson one summer to Fort Benning, Georgia, where Brown was in charge of the troops.
“The combination of him and Coach K and the passion I have on my own has brought me to the point of joining the Army,” Plumlee said.
Plumlee’s plan is to be an officer in the Army Reserves. He said he’ll play his final season at Duke in the 2015-16 season, while attending graduate school, and pursue his dream of joining his older brothers in the NBA as well.
“My dream is to play in the NBA and that dream is still possible,” Plumlee said. “I can still serve as a reserve officer and coordinate with the Army and knock out my service throughout the off-season working hand-in-hand with basketball and the Army. They really compliment each other. The Army helps me with the basketball and I feel like the basketball helps me show the Army how much it can open doors.”
Plumlee’s involvement with ROTC, along with his Duke classes and basketball commitments, means he has to manage his time well. He’s proven that’s not a problem.
“He really has three very time consuming areas,” Langkamp said. “That’s what makes him extraordinary. He’s able to create balance with both being a scholar, an athlete and a soldier. That’s rare, to be able to have that stamina, intellect and sheer drive to be able to pursue and excel in all three of those areas. He is taking the road less taken. And he’s ready for it.”
Plumlee’s 7-foot stature does preclude him from some assignments, such as riding in tanks or helicopters. The Army approved a waiver allowing him to join.
“There are some things that no matter how bad I want to do them,” Plumlee said. “But I know there is some way I can help serve.”
His relationship with Krzyzewski, who has continued to support the military throughout his coaching career, has helped everyone be at ease with the situation.
But Plumlee said Krzyzewski’s assistance goes deeper than simply opening some doors.
“More importantly, he knows what this means to me as a person having been there himself,” Plumlee said. “He has an appreciation for what drives me and he uses that to bring out the best in me.”
This article was written by Steve Wiseman from The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.