FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Before he slipped back on a Phoenix Suns jersey ahead of voluntary workouts and training camp, Miles Plumlee donned a different uniform: one that was red, white and blue and had the letters “U”, “S” and “A” splashed across the chest.
Plumlee, a third-year center, was among 13 players invited to play over the summer for the 2014 USA Select Team to train with and compete against the USA Men’s National Team in preparation for the FIBA World Cup.
The four-day camp in Las Vegas brought together some of the NBA’s best young talent, including Plumlee’s younger brother, Mason, of the Brooklyn Nets.
“It was great. I loved it,” the older Plumlee said Tuesday in between two-a-day practices.
Plumlee matched his skillset against the likes of DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) and Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), all of whom were complimentary of his first season in Phoenix.
It was Plumlee’s introduction to USA Basketball.
“You’re playing against the best players in the world. I think when you get to go there and do things you’ve been working on, it really boosts your confidence,” he said. “You’re not backing down, and they’re the guys that are the guys in the league. It’s cool, and it makes you hungry because you see you’re that much closer to, hopefully, making the team one day.”
For right now, Plumlee will concentrate on his role with the Suns, for whom he is once again expected to be the starting center.
He opened up a lot of eyes a year ago, setting career-highs in points (8.1), rebounds (7.8), blocked shots (1.13) and field goal percentage (51.7), which raised many people’s expectations for this season.
Practicing with Team USA has only furthered his development.
“When he came back to work out (in September), I think he was much more confident,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “When you get an opportunity like that to practice with those guys, it can only help your confidence as a player that, ‘hey, they invited you to play with these guys.’
“He looks like a much more confident player.”
Plumlee explained he’s more decisive in his post game, thinking less and just reacting.
“(I’ve) definitely been a lot more of a playmaker in the post, hitting a lot of cutters in pickup games and getting more assists that way,” he said. “(I’ve been) a little bit more of a go-to option.”
His shot has also improved to where he’s comfortable from 15-18 feet out.
“I don’t think they want me shooting any farther, so I’ll stick to around 15 (feet),” he said, laughing.
But on defense is where the 6-11 Plumlee will be looked to the most as the Suns work to improve upon their middle-of-the-pack opponent field goal percentage (45.6, 14th) and bottom-third opponent scoring (102.6, 21st) rankings.
“(I’m) being more vocal, helping the whole team know they have an anchor behind me,” he said. “I think last year I couldn’t decide when to go for blocks, and sometimes I was going too much and then sometimes I was overcompensating and not going enough. And this year, just really knowing when I can get it and when I can’t and boxing out. I think that kind of decisiveness will help me be a better defender.”