Sure, there's the nearly 7'1" frame, the "off-the-charts" work ethic, and the competitive fire that Gaines says rivals Marshall's older brother and current Duke Blue Devil Mason. But it's not so much those attributes that make Marshall different from some of the others he's recently coached. Instead, it's the barrage of recruiting attention he received before he'd had a chance to star at the prep level.
"He's kind of been the first one where all this attention came before he really started a high school game," Gaines said.
There's little doubt about the interest started early. As a sophomore, Plumlee was playing only about six minutes per game at Christ School, yet was still a focal point of schools like Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and Notre Dame. After a solid AAU season with the Indiana Elite program he climbed to No. 3 on Scout.com's rankings for 2011 centers, even though he'd yet to crack the starting lineup for his prep team.
Gaines said he understood why there was so much interest in Plumlee. His size, athleticism, attitude and "infectious" personality made him a can't miss prospect once his basketball development caught up with his physical development. But it was still a unique situation, and one that might have contributed to some degree, however small, of self-imposed pressure this fall.
With standouts like his McDonald's All-America older brother Mason Plumlee, Lakeem Jackson (South Carolina) and Dee Giger (Harvard) gone to the Division I ranks, Marshall went from little-used reserve to starter on a team ranked in USA Today's Top 25 nationally. While the team continued to win, Marshall's play was inconsistent early on.
"I think maybe his early struggles this year were that ‘I should be averaging a ton of points and a ton of rebounds and dominating games,'" Gaines said. "We had a discussion or two about that. I think there was a little of that, but more than anything I think it was the adjustment he had to make to having his minutes tripled.
"I told him to just keep it simple, do the things you do well, don't over-analyze every performance."
Plumlee has done that, and Gaines says he's now playing the best basketball he's played in his 2 ½ years with the Christ School program. Considered a "true center" by Gaines as well as most national recruiting service rankings, Plumlee is averaging 9.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 20 minutes/game on a team that is 18-1 and ranked No. 20 nationally by USA Today.
"We don't need him to score 25 points and grab 20 rebounds a night," Gaines said. "We feel like we're getting really good production from Marshall."
That production figures to only improve as he gains more experience, the one thing that's probably been lacking for a player that Gaines thinks has all the tools to be special.
"I think Marshall's awkwardness with his feet and legs and arms flying all around, I think that's long since passed," Gaines said. "He's very well coordinated for a kid his size. He runs the floor like a guard, and that's the intrigue of all these (college) coaches.
"Marshall is in no way, shape or form a project, but his basketball development hasn't caught up to where his physical development is. When that happens, he's going to be a dominant player."
That basketball development figures to come quickly, thanks in large part to a work ethic for which Gaines as well as his Indiana Elite AAU coaches will vouch.
"He's got an off-the-charts work ethic, and he really needs that," Gaines said. "I don't think the game comes as naturally to him as it did to (older brothers) Miles and Mason. I think Marshall senses that, so he's always in the gym, always willing to work on areas that he needs to improve, whether it's his jump shot, free throws, ball handling.
"He's willing to do whatever we ask him to do to make himself a better player. Who wouldn't want to coach a kid with that type of attitude?"
Plumlee's lengthy list of scholarship offers only goes to affirm Gaines' take on his standout junior. Scholarship offers, recruiting phone calls, and coaching visitors to most of Christ School's basketball games are all a part of daily life for Plumlee as well as Gaines. But the Christ School coach – who recently won his 300th game at the school – said it doesn't dominate their conversations.
"I'll let him know if I've heard such-and-such is coming to our game, but since our season started he and I have had very little discussion about college scholarships," Gaines said. "I think that's important because right now he's not ready to make a decision on where he's going. So that stuff just becomes a distraction to what we're trying to accomplish as a team."