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Army’s Plomb Hopes NBA Dream Becomes Reality

If Army’s Tanner Plomb doesn’t make it in the NBA, he’ll begin his military career and be stationed in Germany.

Alex Kennedy

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One of the most intriguing storylines in the 2016 NBA draft class is likely one you haven’t heard about yet.

Tanner Plomb, a 6’7 swingman who spent the past four years at West Point playing for the Army, entered the NBA draft after a strong senior season and hoped to hear his named called in the second round on Thursday night. However, he went undrafted and is now hoping to make the league via a strong Summer League showing. If his professional basketball career doesn’t take off, he will fulfill his commitment to the Army.

“I’m very determined,” Plomb said. “Playing in the NBA is pretty much every basketball player’s dream, but it’s been mine for my entire life. I want to make it more than ever because I know that I won’t have as many opportunities as some of these other players. I know that I have to push for this, otherwise I’ll start my career with the Army. If my basketball career doesn’t work out, then I will be going to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for Field Artillery Training for four and a half months. After that, I’d go to Fort Benning in Georgia for Airborne School for three weeks and then be stationed in Grafenwoehr, Germany for three years with a field artillery unit. At any point while I’m stationed in Germany, the army could deploy me and my unit to many different parts of the world to fight against the enemies of our country.

“If that happens, I’m ready for that too. Everything we have done has really prepared us, and I still have some training left to do. When you graduate from West Point, there’s so much emotion built up and so much time that has been put into training and you feel like you’re finally ready. You accept that it’s going to happen and look forward to your future, and especially the people who you’ll be with. There’s more of a readiness to move on rather than any [hesitancy].”

Plomb is a very good athlete with a three-point shot that improved every year he was in college, to the point that he was hitting nearly three shots from long range per game as a senior. This past year, he averaged 19.8 points and 5.8 rebounds with a 21.4 efficiency rating and 110.2 offensive rating. He was selected to the All-Patriot League First Team for his efforts.

He worked out for the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz among others and did well. He compares working out in front of well-known GMs and coaches to the presentations he had to give in front of higher-up generals at West Point. He added that with everything he’s been through and what may be ahead, an NBA workout or Summer League invite isn’t nerve-racking.

Plomb didn’t consider a career in the military until their coaching staff reached out to him in order to express their interest. It was only then that he decided to join the Army.

“I’ve been in love with basketball my whole life, back to the Little Tikes hoop days,” Plomb said. “I always had a hoop – in the basement, on a door somewhere – and I was always playing. Then, I saved up enough money where my dad allowed me to put half a court and hoop in the back yard. My love for the game just kept growing through middle school to high school to college and still today. I hadn’t really considered joining the military at all until I received a call from the coaching staff. They were talking to me, asking me, ‘Do you have any interest?’ I was hesitant and unsure about it, just as any teenage kid who’s in love with the game would be. But they talked me into coming out for a visit, and I met the coaching staff, faculty, players and I saw the campus. It’s one of the most beautiful things ever and there’s so much history there. Everything about it is really special and you can just feel it when you’re there. It was too good of a thing for me to pass up, too good of an opportunity.”

Because he was at West Point, he had a very different college experience than every other player in this draft. He believes that his experiences and military background can really help him as he tries to achieve his NBA goal.

“I thought I experienced a huge growth while I was there,” Plomb said. “I ended up starting my first six games when I was there, but I didn’t have that much confidence in myself at that time. I was still trying to adjust to the college game and didn’t think I’d be able to impact the game that much right away. But as I progressed there and matured more – as a person and as a basketball player – I learned that I can give a lot back to this game and to my team. I think I was able to really contribute more as I progressed, with my scoring, leadership, defense, everything. I felt like I was adding more and more to our program as the years went on.

“My relationships with people have gotten stronger and stronger as time has gone on. I’m able to communicate better, know how to work with other people better and understand where other people are coming from. But other than that, I think it really matured me as a person and forced me to grow up a little earlier than some of these other people may have had to. I know that in a few years or a few months, depending on what happens with basketball, people’s lives may actually be in my hands. I understand that you have to be mature and responsible, not just for yourself but for the people around you. I feel like that’s one of the main things that the Army has taught me, worrying about more than just yourself.”

Plomb said that he believes he can be a productive 3-and-D role player in the NBA, and named Mike Miller as one of the players who he has modeled his game after.

“I feel like I can be a player that knocks down open shots and on the other end bust my butt defending whoever I need to, which should translate well to the NBA,” Plomb said. “That’s become more important and popular, the Three-and-D guy.

“I like watching superstars to see everything they bring to the game, but guys like Mike Miller and others like him are the guys [I study] because you see how hard they work, how bad they want to win and how they’ll do anything for their team. Whatever guys like that are asked to do, they’ll do, and they make the most of every situation they’re. I watch people like that and model my game after theirs.”

Zach Spiker, who was the head coach at Army before accepting the head coaching job at Drexel in March, had nothing but positive things to say about Plomb.

“Tanner is a terrific basketball player, but a better person,” Coach Spiker said. “Whenever he has gotten an opportunity, he has done nothing but excel. To me, it’s no surprise to see NBA teams show interest in him. He represents everything that is right about West Point and the Army. He has a service heart, puts other before him and is a professional.

“He graduated as one of our best three-point shooters and was one of the most explosive athletes in the Patriot League. He improved every year that he was there. He was a candidate for Player of the Year in League play from sophomore year on. He has shown that he makes the most of every opportunity he’s given. If he has the time to focus on one thing, I think he’ll excel and continue to make huge strides.”

Plomb and everyone close to him (such as his agent Russell Slayton and mentor Pete Strobl from The Scoring Factory, a training facility in Pittsburgh) hope he can make it in the NBA, not only so he can accomplish his life-long dream but because he can use his platform to make a big impact as well.

“Basketball players have a great influence on our society,” Slayton said. “People line up for days to spend their last dime on their favorite player’s sneaker. If Tanner makes it to the NBA, he can be a positive role model for our country. I want our culture to be influenced by people like him.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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