One year after arriving on campus for the first time, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee are finally ready to trade in their redshirts for Duke blue.
Murphy and Plumlee sat out last season to gain a fifth year of NCAA eligibility, and there were times when the Blue Devils missed their pair of redshirt freshmen, especially Murphy. The Blue Devils lacked a true wing player and struggled to defend opponents’ more versatile and athletic forwards, a role that the 6-foot-8 Murphy expects to fill this season.
“There were a couple of times last year when I wanted to get him off the redshirt thing because we were missing that element on our team last season,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
But after a long season on the bench, Murphy and Plumlee are ready to give their rookie years a second shot—and this time, they’re ready.
“I’m excited and anxious to finally play,” Murphy said. “Now I know that this is it. Now I know that I’m ready to be thrown into the fire. I’m ready to play now. I can’t wait to get things started. I feel really confident coming into this year, and I feel great.”
Murphy planned on redshirting all along after reclassifying from the class of 2012 to the class of 2011 and graduating from high school a year early. Suffering a concussion just before the season was set to begin that forced him to sit out the first few games, Murphy finalized his decision to redshirt just before the team departed for the 2011 Maui Invitational in late November. He had played important minutes in the team’s trip to China and started Duke’s first exhibition game.
Sitting out his first year allowed Murphy to sharpen his skills and adjust to the speed of Division I basketball, but more importantly gave him an additional year under the tutelage of head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“I think it helped me a lot,” Murphy said. “Being here and getting accustomed to the program and practicing against these guys every day last year helped me so much. It was great for me.”
Although Plumlee did not plan on redshirting when entering college, he welcomed the chance to learn from Duke’s experienced big men: His older brothers Miles and Mason, along with Ryan Kelly and Josh Hairston. Standing at 6-foot-11, the youngest Plumlee called the decision to redshirt a “mutual feeling” between him and the Blue Devil coaching staff.
“I just think it was the timing. We were very confident in my brothers as well as Ryan Kelly playing the post,” Plumlee said. “At my stage in my development, it just seemed best for me to take a year to get better and learn from them.”
Aside from experience, the redshirt season paid large dividends physically for both Murphy and Plumlee, who are now prepared to take on bigger and faster competition at the college level. Murphy is in the best shape of his career and put on enough muscle to enter the year at 220 pounds. He expects to make an instant impact as a key member of the Blue Devils’ rotation after starting both exhibition games.
Duke fans will have to wait a little longer to see Plumlee take the court for the first time. He is currently nursing a stress fracture in his left foot and is out indefinitely. Plumlee also mentioned the strides he made physically during the offseason and noted that having Murphy redshirting with him made the process easier for them both.
“We definitely got closer,” Plumlee said. “Working a whole year by yourself can be hard. It was nice to have someone to work with and against. We really pushed each other to make one another better.”
Now, with the experience of redshirting behind them, Murphy and Plumlee can serve as mentors to Duke’s current freshmen, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson. Rodney Hood—the Mississippi State transfer who will have to sit out the season per NCAA rules—will go through a similar experience this year of improving in practice and in the weight room while waiting for the chance to play.
Although staying off the court for an entire year may have been the most difficult thing they have ever done, this year Murphy and Plumlee are out to prove that in the end it was all worth the wait.
“There were definitely days in practice or games that I watched when I thought I could have been out there helping,” Murphy said. “But I think that at the end of the day, looking where I’m at now to start the season, I’m definitely reassured that redshirting was the right decision for me.”