Countdown to 2015–16: Tanner Plomb, Army’s magnetic senior leader, wants to punch the program’s first NCAA tournament bid
According to Tanner Plomb, Army basketball is defined by its up-tempo pace, buoyed by a collective fitness base that allows them to tire out the other team. According to Larry Toomey, Plomb’s teammate and senior classmate, Army is best described as a bunch of “goofy, hard-working athletes.”
Both assessments help form a picture of a program that, as Black Knights coach Zach Spiker says, complements the ethos of its school quite well. Consider the start of Plomb’s summer, just past. He participated in West Point’s Cadet Leader Development Training, which meant he was out in the forest for three weeks, doing some of the hardest training he’s ever done.
“It tested us physically and mentally, but us basketball players sailed through it,” says Plomb.
Army is one of five Division I teams never to have made an NCAA tournament appearance (the Black Knights have eight times participated in the NIT), but Plomb is part of a senior core ready to make history in ‘15–16.
Should they realize the considerable potential on tap this campaign, the mentality they’ve developed at West Point will play a huge role. “We don’t quit,” says Plomb. “We know as a team to push each other and get ourselves in the physical shape we need. When we’re out in development training, we know the mindset it takes to get through those exercises in the forest; when we’re on the basketball court, it just makes us more determined to reach the goals we’ve set.”
Along with Kyle Wilson, Plomb, who was named second-team all conference in ‘14–15, helped form the Patriot League’s top-scoring duo. In addition to his 15.8 points, the 6–7, 205-pound forward posted 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists while hitting 43% of his field goals and draining 66 threes at a 38% clip.
Plomb’s well-versed skill set, coupled with some serious athleticism (see: propensity for rim-rocking dunks) are a perfect fit for Spiker’s fast-paced system. According to Spiker, in ‘14–15, Army ranked 10th in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s tempo ratings. The Black Knights posted an impressive 72.1 points per game.
Growing up in Mukwonago, Wisc., Plomb describes himself as having been “kind of a goofy kid” without much athleticism. That changed when he underwent a serious growth spurt, heading into high school. With each passing year came another wave of athleticism.
Plomb was a perfect fit for Spiker’s style, but Plomb wasn’t sure, at first, whether West Point was the place for him. “Like a lot of kids, I didn’t really think the military was an option,” says Plomb.
But he talked with the Army coaches, and they convinced him to take an official visit. When Plomb poked around campus, and spent time with his future teammates and fellow cadets, he began to understand that he’d found the place for him. “I was convinced once I got here,” he says. “The visit did that for me.”
Says Spiker, “It’s a great fit for a lot of people — they just don’t know sometimes.”
When he took the Army job in 2009, Spiker created a booklet with a list of things he had to accomplish to generate exposure for a program that hadn’t had a winning season since ‘84. He held camps and clinics, but more importantly, he got the word about about the culture in place at West Point.
“This is the No. 1 leadership institution in the world,” Spiker says, placing emphasis upon each word in that phrase. “There is no better degree you can obtain. Mike Krzyzewski has said that West Point provided the foundation for everything he’s ever done. That’s a pretty strong statement.”
The 2016 Army class motto is “With Honor We Lead.” It is exhibited by this group of Black Knights seniors, who’ve played serious minutes since their freshman years, when they helped the program earn that first winning record in 28 years. The camaraderie has continued to grow.
“Our class, we’re always together,” says Plomb. “Even now, with other priorities to take care of, we find time to go out on weekends. We’ll catch movies or have dinner. The bond that we’ve formed will definitely last a lifetime.”
In November, Plomb will learn which branch of the army he will serve in next year. In January, he will find the city in which he’ll be posted. It’s coming up fast, but for now, his focus is turned completely toward the season at hand.
Things didn’t end well for Army last March — a four-point loss to arch-rival Navy in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. It was a major disappointment for the Black Knights, who had been picked to finish second in conference, and instead saw their season finish postseason-less, at 15–15.
“Our focus is to make history here,” says Plomb. “That comes by working hard every single day. If you give all you can, then whatever comes out, there are no regrets.”
Says Spiker, “Tanner has a magentic personality. Guys like being around him. He works hard on his game, and athletically, he’s as gifted a player as we’ve had come through our program.”
Toward the end of last season, Spiker saw Plomb become a leader. As Krzyzewski might attest, there is an art to that responsibility. It’s something one feels sure to see, come March 2016.