Quote by Blackmon, Indiana will be great again
Basketball has always been a family matter for the Blackmons: every member plays it. But when it came to choosing the college, James Jr wanted to follow his heart and forge his own path. So, he preferred Indiana, the team of his home town, over the most renowned Kentucky University, where also his father played. When James Blackmon Jr speaks about his choices, he shows no regrets; nor does he have any doubt about his final goal: NBA. Here is what he told us the new guard of VL Pesaro about his college times as a Hoosiers and about his personal goals for the upcoming Italian season.
Let’s start from the very beginning of your career, when on your senior year at Marion High School you broke your father’s record with 54 points. What do remember about that match? And, in particular …how did your father react?
Well, my dad had just come back to his home town where he had played and scored many records. I remember we were playing Irvington Prep (Indianapolis) and it was the fist game in the season and that I was very hot that night. He was happy to see me breaking his own record and I remember the great atmosphere in the gym and around the team in general.
Speaking about your father, he was a basketball player too and now a coach at Marion High School. Was it him who taught you to play?
He played for the University of Kentucky and then professionally in the NBA (for the New Jersey Nets). Growing up, I have always looked up to him. In my home town, I have always heard stories about him and so I really take proud of it. It has been a model and basketball is a family matter: my two young brothers play basketball as well.
You chose to play for Indiana instead of Kentucky, where your father played. Was it purely the program or was part of the decision motivated by wanting to forge your own path?
Actually Kentucky was where I was planning to go, following my father’s steps. But at the last minute, I don’t know..I had a feeling in my heart for Indiana. I wanted to do things differently, to do them in my way and so I chose to stay home. Looking back to that decision, I am happy about it: playing for the Hoosiers was fun and we had a great ride.
Michigan State, Louisville, Michigan and Kansas had showed great interest on you; what did Indiana have that impressed you the most over the other colleges?
Like I said, my choice was Kentucky. There were many top players that were going there too. Indiana then stepped in and told me that they wanted me to become their main player. In other words, I was being given the change to be a central player in the college of my hometown and I felt that was the opportunity I was looking for…so I signed.
I read that your final commitment to Indiana was even televised on ESPNU. How did you react to that news? How did you manage all that interest on you? Do you have any special memory of that day?
Really it was kinda of stressful, as I didn’t know it would have been broadcasted and moreover I didn’t know where I would have gone yet. As I said before I took a decision at the very last second following my heart and I did it in front of all these cameras and people who were waiting for my decision. But I really didn’t know what to say a second before I spoke.
Then, your knee began to give you some troubles. First, an operation when you were still in the high school; then another operation during the off season and eventually an injury that set you out for the rest of the season. How did you live those moments? And all of this while you team was having one of its greatest season , winning the regular season and reaching the SW16. How did you deal with it?
It was though for me to be out and watch my team playing, but indeed I came our stronger from that injury as a player as I understood how much I loved the game. I dealt with it just staying strong and by following my work ethic: I worked in the gym every day and kept thinking that things somehow always come together at the end. And eventually the did.
Have you any particular memories of that team? What about Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williamsons and OG Anunoby? Are you still in touch with them?
Oh yes. Yogi, Troy e OG are still my friends and I talk to them often these days too. We built our relation as players back in Indiana but we have become friends. I learned a lot from them and they did too.
And I am sure you learned also a lot also from coach Crean about the game; is there any valuable advice you took with you off the court?
He taught me how to work hard, to stay disciplined and have a positive mind of set. Off court he gave ma a lot mentally: the way he used to push me as a player was different from the way that any other coach had and indeed it helped me during the injury.
Despite you entered the NBA draft, you went back to Indiana for your junior year; and, no it was not an easy one for the Hoosiers. How do you explain such a big drop in the results?
Well, on my sophomore year we were playing very well and we were ranked among the top three of the country; I think we were even number one of the conference at that time. Then I got injured, so I skipped the rest of it. On my junior year something broke down in the team: we started loosing and worse, we were not able to come together as a team and play together. This is the main reason for that drop I think.
You decided to enter the NBA draft despite you had still one year of eligibility. Can you explain us that decision? Was a direct consequence of that bad season? And was the right time to do it?
It was simply me feeling that it was the right time to do it. I had already planned to come out the previous year, but the injury didn’t help me. I just felt I was ready and I felt as a player I would go to the NBA. I was confident with that.
Have you got any regrets about this decision?
Once I made a decision I don’t ever go back and this is also the reason why I am in this team right now. I have a positive mind on everything and I know that at the end everything works out. So, yes, I was confident that this was the best decision and I still am confident about it.
As you mentioned it, let’s speak about your decision to come here in Italy to play. In an interview, you said that this is not where you intended to be, but it’s a step in the right direction. How might this season here in Italy with the VL help you to achieve your goal of playing in the NBA?
I think that the competition here is tremendous; the way that our coach is teaching us practice after practice can only help me to grow up and be ready for the NBA. I think that something that the NBA wants to see out of me is enduring the ball and coming into the square and playing good defense. I think that this team will allow me to do that and if we win a high level I will be right back into the NBA.
Speaking about the defense. You worked so hard on your defensive skills that, according to some analysts, you have lost some of your offensive power. Do you agree with this analysis?
I have always have pressure on that: I knew that if I wanted to make it to the NBA, I had to improve my defense. So I did it that time and I am still on it as I feel that at a high level you need to be as much complete as possible and in NBA they look for great defensive skills.
Do you still follow the NCAA tournament? Will Archie Miller be able to make Indiana great again?What about the Big 10. Which team is going to win the conference?
I think that Archie Miller is a great coach. He has done incredible things at Dayton and he can be very helpful for the players to have him as a guide. My brother is there now and he said that just the chance to talk to him is a great opportunity for each player to share and understand his attitude. I think that his presence will benefit Indiana enormously.
Which is the team who has the higher chances to win the title this year and who is the player who is going to reach the spotlight?
Indiana! No doubt! Both the conference and the NCAA Tournament. Indeed, Duke has the most athletic and talented team of the entire tournament but I have a good feeling about Indiana: with Archie Miller as a guide and coach they are ready for the big jump!