For the first time in his basketball life, Lamar Plummer is focused. He has to be if he wants to contribute. He needs to be if he's going to leave a mark on the Penn basketball program. "Basically, what I'm here for now is to graduate and to play basketball," he said. "That's the only two things on my mind." It has not always been this way. It has not always needed to be this way. "Freshman, sophomore year, I had a couple other things on my mind. It wasn't always basketball; it wasn't always school. I liked to hang out, and things like that," he said. "But now I'm focused, and I'm ready to get on with what I'm supposed to do." Lamar Plummer knows that what he is supposed to do has not changed -- he is a Penn basketball player, and he is supposed to contribute to the Penn basketball team. It is the expectations -- from others, if not himself -- that have changed. Once, he bore the burden of future stardom. Now, he's trying to make sure no one's forgotten about him. "I don't think you guys have ever actually really seen me play, because I've been through so much here," he said. "But I think you will get a chance to see me play." * There was a time when signs pointed to Plummer being the centerpiece of the Penn team by now -- the veteran guard, the go-to guy. A shooter, a slasher, a pure scorer in high school, he arrived on campus a heralded recruit -- Abington Friends' all-time leading scorer come to join high school teammate Michael Jordan in the Quakers backcourt. And he contributed as a freshman. In his fourth college game, against Evansville, he scored 13 points in 23 minutes. He dropped 12 on Rhode Island a week after his 19th birthday. With Penn's Matt Langel hurt, he showed poise in his first Big 5 game at the Palestra, scoring 11 points in 33 minutes of a down-to-the-wire, two-point loss to St. Joe's. That was three years ago. That was before the setbacks. "My sophomore year, I thought that was going to be a great year for me," Plummer said. "Coach [Fran Dunphy], I think he expected a lot from me that year. I expected a lot from myself." What he never could have expected, though, was that a preseason poke in the eye and an ensuing exam would reveal he had a torn retina in one eye and a detached retina in the other. In an instant, he went from wanting all eyes on him on the court to just wanting his own two to work. Penn played tough against Kansas, then upset sixth-ranked Temple. The Quakers were riding high. Lamar Plummer was just trying to regain his vision. After three eye surgeries, he rushed to rejoin the team by the end of December. The one thing that was clear, though, was that he was not the same Lamar Plummer who showed so much promise the year before. "I just wasn't myself. I was out of it, I had no depth perception," he said. "That's like shooting at a rim with no backboard or anything. It was kind of difficult." Donning protective eyewear, he finished his sophomore season scoring 4.3 points per game and hitting just 33.3 percent of his shots. He played four minutes in the Ivy League-clinching win at Princeton. He scored three points in Penn's NCAA Tournament loss to Florida. Junior year was the year he would come back, he thought -- when he would reassert himself. It turned out to be a disaster. "Things didn't happen as well as I would have liked them, and it went back to me doing the wrong things, and focusing on the wrong things again, and I ended up having to take a leave of absence because my mind just wasn't into school," Plummer said. A lifelong scorer, his touch was gone on the court. He struggled, shot 17.4 percent, hit four total field goals in six games before leaving the team. * The Quakers rolled to the Ivy title last season, recording the sixth undefeated Ivy campaign in school history. And Plummer was away from the Palestra for it all, away from the classroom, away from Penn. At a crossroads, he was out of the spotlight, at home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, deciding what his next move would be and what he would do with his life. He talked to Dunphy frequently. And he kept playing basketball. Because no matter what, basketball had always been fun for him. "Always. Always. That's my first love, and my really only love -- it's just like basketball is it," Plummer said, his eyes lighting up. "It's just so fun.... You can go anywhere and guys know basketball -- it's a universal sport. And I love it." He could have left Penn, could have washed his hands of the whole situation. He could have moved on, sealing the books on a college basketball career, having scored 223 total points. Having not started a game since his freshman season. Instead, Lamar Plummer acquired a focus. He worked on mental discipline. He decided he would try to come back. And he turned in the best summer of basketball of his entire life. In the Sonny Hill League, one of the premier summer leagues in the country, Plummer was a star. He led his team, Chestnut Hill Podiatry, to the championship game against WDAS -- a deep squad featuring Temple scoring machine Lynn Greer, Penn star Ugonna Onyekwe and La Salle's Rasual Butler, a preseason candidate for the prestigious Wooden Award. Plummer outplayed them all. He shut down Greer one on one. He hit key shots down the stretch. He led his team to the title, and he copped MVP honors. "[Lamar] is without question capable of being one of the best shooters in the Big 5," said John Hardnett, commissioner of the Sonny Hill's Hank Gathers College League. Hardnett is a basketball mentor, a playground and rec coaching legend, an influence on countless Big Fivers. He has known Plummer since the 6'1", 185-pound guard was a schoolboy. And he believes that Plummer should not be counted out of the Penn basketball equation. "He's more dedicated [now]," Hardnett said. "When things come easy for kids at an early age, they [sometimes] need something to wake them up. And I think that the setbacks he's had in his career have now put him on a straightened path." Likewise, Abington Friends coach Steve Chadwin believes that Penn basketball has not seen the last of Lamar Plummer. "He's got his senior year to salvage," Chadwin says. "He's set a goal that he really wants to do well -- make a contribution to the team any way he can." Chadwin remembers Plummer as a slasher, a scorer, a player with quick reflexes. "The potential's there. That's never been a problem. He just basically has to play the way the Penn coaching staff wants him to play -- fit into their system." * Fran Dunphy knows that Lamar Plummer has talent. And he is pulling for the guard to succeed. But Dunphy knows it has been three years since Plummer was last a healthy part of the team's equation for an entire season. "Well, you would have liked to have had him get significant time each year -- a little bit freshman year, a lot sophomore year, a whole lot more junior year and then really have it be his team this year, to really come in and solidify that backcourt," Dunphy said. "Which is not to say it won't happen. He just hasn't had that opportunity yet. But now that opportunity is here, and let's see what he can do with it." Lamar Plummer's role on this team is not yet defined. With All-Ivy performers Jordan and Langel graduated, the Quakers have little experience in the backcourt. But to Plummer, proving himself on the court in the game he truly loves is no pressure at all. "If you ask me is there a lot of pressure being back, or stepping in place of Mike or Matt, it's no pressure. Pressure was when I was home, and out of school and my parents were looking at me like, 'What are you going to do with your life?' That was pressure," he said. "Just doing the things -- coming from where I came from -- that's pressure. This is basketball. This is fun." He is the oldest of the guard pool, a month shy of 22 and competing for a position among a handful of underclassmen. To play serious minutes, he'll need to prove to Dunphy that he is as focused as he -- and Hardnett, and Chadwin -- believes he is. "I don't think there's any question that Lamar can step up and make shots on the perimeter. There's no question that he can be a force for us defensively," Dunphy said. "It's just the consistency factor. Doing it time after time, each possession down the floor." Dunphy is not quick to praise, but Plummer knows that he can contribute in this, his final season. "Yeah, it's feeling pretty good. I'm pretty confident in my shooting the ball," Plummer said. But that's besides the point. Plummer does not want to talk about his own abilities. In a year away, in three years outside the spotlight, he has learned that basketball is a team game. "My focus is this team. That's just it. [I'll do] whatever I've got to do. If I've got to come out here and play the whole game, if I've got to come out here and only play 10 minutes if [we're] winning," he said. "That's what I want -- I want a winning team." The slate, in a way, is clean. He has a chance to surprise people, to remind them that he is not finished at Penn, not as long as he still has so much to get out of the game. "What I do out here is have fun. I take it and put it all out here every day, I try to give it my all every day, because I realize what has passed me in three years -- it went by so fast," he said. "And I want to make the best out of this last year that I have here. I really do."Comments powered by Disqus
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