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Mason Plumlee talks Ryan Kelly return; and Josh Hairston out Thursday?

Feb 6, 2013, 9:53 AM EDT

Ryan Kelly

The most discussed foot in the country belongs to Ryan Kelly.

The Blue Devil’s senior forward emerged as arguably their most valuable player throughout the first two months of the season, providing offensive balance that helped space the floor for Mason Plumlee while developing into arguably Duke’s best defender. Crazy, right?

But nearly a month ago, Kelly reinjured the foot that he had surgery on over the summer and that kept him out of last season’s NCAA tournament. He hasn’t played since, and Duke has been quite vague about his status.

No one really seems to have an answer, but for Duke fans looking to read between the lines, Plumlee may have helped to ease some concern on Tuesday.

“When we get him back, we’ll be a better team because of it,” Plumlee told Jeff Goodmon on his Sirius XM. The key word there? When. Not if, when.

“We’ve seen him without his air-sock cast on and doing a little more rehab,” Plumlee said. “But we don’t know when we’re going to have him back. I would hope we’d have him back by the end of the ACC season, but with these kind of injuries, you never really know.”

Getting Kelly back — and getting him to 100% — would be a major boost for the Blue Devils. Not only were they the best team in the country when they had their full roster, Duke has spent the last month giving Amile Jefferson a taste of what life is like at this level. The same goes for Alex Murphy. Neither of them are as valuable as Kelly (yet), but with some experience under their belt, the Blue Devils would finally have some depth in their front court.

While I’m on the topic of Duke, their front court may take another blow in Thursday’s matchup with NC State:

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.