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Summer job pits Suns center Plumlee against U.S. national team

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Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee is starting his third NBA season with a little more experience under his belt.

Plumlee spent his summer playing with the USA Select Team that trains with the USA Men’s National Team preparing for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. That had him going up against James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins, among others.

“You know you’re playing against the best players in the world,” he said as the Suns held a training camp last week in Flagstaff. “It really boosts your confidence.”

Plumlee was a first-round draft pick by Indiana, 26th overall out of Duke, in the 2012 NBA draft. He was traded to Phoenix in 2013.

Last season, Plumlee averaged a career-high 8.1 points and was the team leader with 7.8 rebounds and 1.13 blocks per game as well as a 51.7 percent field goal average. That helped replace the production of center Marcin Gortat, who was traded to the Washington Wizards before the season began.

Head coach Jeff Hornacek said he sees improvements after Plumlee’s summer experience.

“I think when he came back to work, he was much more confident,” Hornacek said. “When you get an opportunity like that to practice with those guys, it can only help your confidence as a player.”

In particular, Hornacek said, Plumlee worked on his shooting.

“We don’t want him out there shooting those 20-foot jumpers all the time,” Hornacek said. “He’s got to stay to his strength of getting to that basket, but he looks like a much more confident player.”

Plumlee said the experience improved his defense as well.

“I think last year I couldn’t decide when to go for blocks, and sometimes I was going too much and sometimes I was overcompensating, not going enough,” he said. “This year, just really knowing when I can get it and when I can’t, boxing out – I think that kind of decisiveness will help me be a better defender.”

Plumlee said his goal is to continue working hard with the Suns to improve his game and hopefully find a spot on a future USA Men’s National Team, something he said has become more of a reality after this summer experience.

“It’s cool and it makes you hungry because you’re that much closer to hopefully making the team one day,” he said.

Born into a family of basketball tradition, he wasn’t the only Plumlee on that summer team. His brother Mason, a power forward for the Brooklyn Nets, played as well and was promoted to the national team.

Plumlee said he hopes his summer experience as well as regular playing time will lead to even better numbers this season.

“Now I know I’ve done it and I did it at a higher level this summer, so I think it’s going to be a good season,” he said.