We have seen the future of Indiana basketball and it is impressive. Fort Wayne Bishop Luers’ James Blackmon Jr. is a smooth-shooting guard who, even as a freshman, is a man among boys as a scorer. He’s not as dominant as a defensive player, but who is? He had a game-high 23 points in a win over Indianapolis Arlington in last week’s IPSAC Challenge in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis Tech’s Trey Lyles also was impressive in the same event at John Marshall Community High School. The 6-9 freshman had 29 points and 11 rebounds against an aggressive East Chicago Central team. He even handled the ball against the press, and while you wouldn’t want to base an entire game on his ability to deal with that kind of pressure, his versatility will translate well to the college game.
IU coach Tom Crean wasn’t wrong in offering these guys scholarships before they had ever played a high school game. Both will have outstanding prep careers. If they stay healthy, both might even make a run at Damon Bailey’s state career scoring record of 3,134 points.
For the record, only two other Indiana high school players have broken the 3,000-point barrier. Lewisville’s Marion Pierce had 3,019 points. Bishop Luers’ DeShaun Thomas had 3,018.
Anyway, Blackmon and Lyles play on the same summer travel team, which is where Blackmon’s father, James Sr., got to know Lyles. The Luers head basketball coach is impressed with the caliber of player Crean is landing.
“When you get a kid like Trey Lyles, that’s another piece to the puzzle,” Blackmon Sr. said. “They had fun together (on the AAU circuit). They enjoyed each other. Not only is Coach Crean bringing in good athletes, but they’re also quality kids.”
The younger Blackmon can hit all the shots. He can bury three-pointers, drive to the basket and get inside the arc for pull-up jumpers. As a freshman he’s further along than his father, who wound up as the Mr. Basketball runner-up to New Castle’s Steve Alford as a high-scoring senior guard at Marion High School.
“The difference is he’s gotten to play early,” the father said. “He’s competing as a younger guy. He’s learning through mistakes.”
Most of the younger Blackmon’s mistakes come on the defensive end. Yes, he knows it.
“Sometimes people say when you’re young you don’t care for defense much. I have to step it up, stay down in a stance and work harder in practice. Sometimes I just don’t work as hard like I do on offense. I know I can score. That’s my best strength. I’m not bad on defense, but I have to work harder.”
Figure his father will ensure he does.
“Defense is effort,” Blackmon Sr. said. “Your body has to get physically stronger once you get to high school. With James, you’re talking about a freshman going against seniors. There’s going to be a difference.
“Right now we’re not lifting weights. We’re concentrating on pushups and situps. He’s going to get stronger. I’ll leave (weight lifting) to Coach Crean as far as putting on more bulk.”
The younger Blackmon averages more than 20 points for an unbeaten Luers team ranked No. 1 in Class 2A. The upgrade in competition hasn’t affected him.
“He’s always played up during the AAU circuit,” the older Blackmon said. “He’s always played up against older guys. He doesn’t seem to get rattled. He can miss four to five shots and won’t get rattled. Defensively he can have a breakdown and he stays focused. One of his strengths to his game is his mental toughness as far as being poised and staying aggressive at all times.”
Blackmon and Lyles, who both rank among the nation’s top players in the Class of 2014, were among the flurry of high-profile recruits to commit or sign with Indiana since the summer.
Others include Cody Zeller and Austin Etherington in the Class of 2011, Hanner Perea, Yogi Ferrell, Ron Patterson and Peter Jurkin in the Class of 2012, and Collin Hartman and Devin Davis in the Class of 2013.
“It’s exciting now that they’ve got all those good players,” the younger Blackmon said. “I’ll be excited to get down (to Bloomington) with them.”
Blackmon and many of the other recruits will head to Bloomington for IU’s New Year’s Eve game against second-ranked Ohio State. They might not see a victory, but they will an opportunity for future success.
IU (9-4) opens Big Ten play tonight against Penn State. It’s coming off a 0-2 swing in Las Vegas that pleased no one. Here are a few of Tom Crean’s thoughts courtesy of a university release.
“We saw that we are a far better team when we play as one and within ourselves. We have a lot of guys who can do good things at any time, but we have to trust our system and, most importantly, trust each other. We don’t have anyone on our team that can carry the lead by themselves. When we try that, we don’t have the same success …
“Our maturity as a team took a step back at times in both games. We are going to learn from them.”
Penn State (7-4) poses a challenge with guard Talor Battler, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer.
“They have one of the premier players in the Big Ten in Talor Battle,” Crean said. “There’s no doubt about that. From end to end his speed is amazing.
“They are far more than just a team driven by one player. They have Big Ten experience at every position.”