Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee have not scored a point, grabbed a rebound or dished an assist for Duke this year.
Neither freshman experienced a season-ending injury, nor are they in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s doghouse. And both are certainly talented enough to contribute for the Blue Devils—the two were listed amongst Scout.com’s Top 75 prospects in the Class of 2011.
Instead, both Murphy and Plumlee are voluntarily redshirting this season—a practice that has become increasingly rare as early entry into the NBA Draft becomes more common. Faced with competition for playing time on a deep Duke squad, Murphy and the youngest Plumlee will instead preserve a year of eligibility while quietly improving outside of the spotlight.
“[With] the timing of it—the way it worked out with how far along Ryan Kelly and Miles and Mason are in their careers and how they’re developing as players—it was smartest for me to take my year to get better and learn from them,” Marshall Plumlee said. “They can do just fine holding down the post for our team.”
The prospect of redshirting Plumlee was a possibility throughout his recruitment, with his brothers, Kelly and sophomore Josh Hairston likely supplanting him in the Blue Devil rotation. But for Murphy the decision was slightly more surprising, considering the 6-foot-8 swingman chose to follow the path of teammate Andre Dawkins and forgo his last season of high-school eligibility to enroll at Duke early.
Murphy, however, always planned to redshirt upon coming to Durham, deciding that a year in the Duke program would benefit his progression more than one more year at the high school level.
“I came in this summer thinking that I was going to redshirt. That was my idea coming out of high school,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day I thought it was a no-brainer; coming down here would benefit me in the long run a lot more than staying back in high school the extra year.”
The situation became muddled after Murphy played well on the Blue Devils’ international trip to China and Dubai and even started Duke’s first exhibition game of the season, leading to speculation that the freshman could play a role in the Blue Devil rotation. But the next week Murphy suffered a concussion during practice, sidelining him for most of Duke’s hectic early-season schedule.
Murphy then reopened the topic of redshirting with his coaches, and made a decision he still feels has been the right one.
“At certain points I’ve gotten a little antsy, but I think I definitely made the right decision,” Murphy said. “It’s been a great year for me, and it was definitely the best thing for me.”
Plumlee followed a more conventional path to Durham, but was faced with a similar conundrum as Murphy. Despite being ranked as the 10th-best center in his class and a McDonald’s All-American, Plumlee realized he would be better served maturing athletically than playing sparse minutes in his first season as a Blue Devil.
“It was a realization that came about slowly,” Plumlee said. “It’s bittersweet because on one side it’s very exciting to see how much my brothers and Ryan have developed as big men. On the other end that helps me realize I’m not quite there yet.”
But like Murphy, the prospect of sitting out his first season never deterred Plumlee, who called playing time a “non-factor” in his recruitment.
Instead, Plumlee has shifted his competitive nature to the practice floor, where he has made a concerted effort to challenge his teammates, often vociferously arguing with his older brothers following physical play.
Both redshirts have also taken it upon themselves to affect the game in the only way the can from the bench—by inspiring their teammates and, when at home, the crowd with their energy and enthusiasm. Plumlee has become especially beloved not only for his exuberant reactions on the bench, but his facetious personality off it that was highlighted in early-season videos for Duke Blue Planet.
“I’m more than just a basketball player, so it’s fun that people get to see a little bit of the fun I have off the court with my teammates and my brothers,” Plumlee said.
As the calendar flips to March, both Murphy and Plumlee admitted that not being able to help their teammates on the court has become more difficult. For now, though, they are content supporting their teammates from the bench, all the while quietly preparing for their chance next season.
And when they do finally hit the court, it will be with an invaluable year of experience under their belt.
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