timberland rugby shirt Blackshear game emerging for Hokies after sitting last season
There’s never been a time in Kerry Blackshear’s life when he’s had a shortage of sound basketball minds to consult. So, when the kid with the refined hoops pedigree had to sit out last season at Virginia Tech, he trusted his elders.
Blackshear’s father graduated from Stetson as the school’s career scoring leader before going on to play professionally overseas for 10 years. His mother earned her place in Stetson’s athletic hall of fame for her basketball exploits. With his parents and a collection of coaches in his life he’s relied on, Blackshear had faith that the decision to redshirt last season while he healed from injuries was the right one. This season, it’s apparent his break from the game was time well spent.
“I’ve had a lot of things in my favor, and I’m definitely thankful for that, but it just gives me a little bit more confidence that I have a lot of positive influences backing me and people that know the game from their own perspectives,” said Blackshear, a 6 foot 10, 260 pound redshirt sophomore forward from Orlando, Fla., who played at Evans High in Orlando while being coached by 11 year NBA veteran Chucky Atkins.
“My dad was a wing and scored. Chucky was a veteran point guard who played in (the NBA) for a long time. My mom was a big power forward who was athletic, so she understands the game from that perspective. Then, (Tech coach) Buzz (Williams) has been a really good coach on the NCAA level in some really good power conferences, so there’s definitely some positive influences from different perspectives. I gain confidence from that.”
That poise since returning from a March 2016 foot surgery and a stress reaction in one of his shins that first developed in September 2016, both of which led to his redshirt year, has been evident in his production.
Coming into Tech’s game Saturday in Blacksburg against Florida State (13 5, 2 4 ACC), Blackshear has carved out his niche on a team full of perimeter sharpshooters. He’s second on the team in scoring (13.6 points per game) while shooting 62.3 percent from the floor, and he’s second in rebounding (6.6 per game).
Against FSU, which is led by guards Terance Mann (15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Braian Angola (14.3 ppg) and forward Phil Cofer (12.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Tech (13 5, 2 3) has a chance to get its most valuable win of the season thus far. Tech, which was 85th in the Ratings Percentage Index heading into Friday night’s games, is 0 4 against teams rated among the top 50 in the RPI.
FSU was 46th in the RPI early Friday evening. UNC, which Tech plays Monday night in Cassell Coliseum, was No. 2 in the RPI. Walker (a highly touted freshman who turned down a scholarship offer from Tech before choosing FSU), and UNC with a versatile post presence who can score with his back to the basket or by stepping out to the perimeter (10 of 20 from 3 point range, including 6 of 11 in four games this month). Keeping Blackshear on the floor has been a challenge at times.
Though Williams believes Blackshear is one of the best defensive presences for a team that has struggled on that end of the floor (giving up 72.2 ppg, 12th in the ACC and tied for 173rd in the nation in scoring defense entering Friday night), he has often gotten himself in foul trouble.
He either finished with four fouls or fouled out five times in Tech’s past 11 games. In Tech’s 93 86 loss Dec. 16 at then No. 8 Kentucky, he had 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting, but he played just 22 minutes before fouling out. Foul trouble limited him to 13 minutes and four points Dec. 31 in Tech’s 68 56 loss at Syracuse.
As effective as Blackshear has been offensively, scoring 20 plus points in four games (including a career high 31 points in Tech’s 81 67 win against Pittsburgh on Jan. 6), his dad has tried to impress upon him the importance of staying out of foul trouble.
“I try to tell him that right now for this particular team, I say, ‘You’re the most important player on the team, because you don’t have a backup. You have to stay on the floor, so you have to stay out of foul trouble,’ ” said Blackshear Sr., who manages recreation centers for Orlando’s parks and recreation services. “My conversations with him are a lot about trying to translate (basketball) to life.”
Blackshear Sr. spent a lot of time having those kinds of deep discussions with his son last season. Blackshear Jr. was able to practice with the team for much of last season, but depression often set in on game days.
“It was very tough, because we knew he wanted to play last year and help his team,” said Blackshear Sr., who played most of his professional career in Spain. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, but I think he grew better physically, mentally and emotionally as a young man. In order to get better, you have to go through things. I think he’s a better person, better teammate, better student, better everything after that last year.”
Spending much of his youth from the ages of 4 through 12 in Spain, Blackshear Jr. learned to speak almost fluent Spanish while he, his mother, Lamilia, brother, Kenan and sister, Kayla, traveled with Blackshear Sr.
A skill set that includes passing, shooting, ballhandling and running the floor rubbed off on Blackshear Jr. from what he witnessed via the European game all characteristics that are unusual for American big men, but are encouraged in European basketball circles.
“Prior to ever meeting (Blackshear Jr.), his IQ was off the charts,” said Williams, whose team is coming off a 94 86 loss last Saturday at Louisville in which Blackshear, Jr. had 19 points and 12 rebounds for his second double double of the season. “Not just specific to his position, but specific to the game. Not just to offense, but to both ends of the floor. As a redshirt sophomore, he has an uncanny ability to understand time/score/momentum, he understands players, he understands scouting reports. His skill set is reflective of I don’t want to necessarily categorize it as European, but obviously he can pass, dribble and shoot.
“It’s been hard for us with the foul trouble he has been a part of throughout the season for us to completely allow him some of the versatility that I think not only helps him, but I think it helps us.”
Blackshear Jr. wouldn’t want to go through another season like he had last year, but he said his time off the court helped him develop a profound awareness of how much the game means to him.
“There was an assortment of emotions throughout the season,” said Blackshear Jr., who played in 35 games (started five) as a freshman in the 2015 16 season, averaging 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor. “Sometimes I was thankful I could be in college and develop another year without losing a year of eligibility. Then, sometimes, there were a lot of thoughts where I was like, ‘I could definitely be out there helping us.’ It was depressing being able to practice and do everything, but not be able to play.”
Being the product of a dad who globetrotted to chase his dream of playing pro basketball, Blackshear Jr. admits he didn’t grasp how different his childhood was when he was in the midst of it. Now, as his game continues to expand, there’s an undeniable appreciation for his roots.
“It was just a unique experience a lot of people don’t get to have in their lives,” Blackshear Jr. said. “It was fun. I got introduced to a new culture both on and off the floor at a young age. I just got to see the world from a different perspective and got to recognize that the world is bigger than what it seems.”