Bryson Scott and James Blackmon Jr. say they enjoy testing the limits of basketball and friendship. That's good, because this friendly rivalry could turn epic the next few years.
The two talented players already have dual identities that make them well-known well beyond the Fort Wayne city limits. Scott, a Northrop junior guard, is a Purdue University recruit. Blackmon, a Bishop Luers sophomore guard, is an Indiana University recruit.
That's right. It's Purdue vs. Indiana, the sneak peek.
Class 4A No. 3 Northrop (12-0) at Class 2A No. 6 Luers (8-3) will be a big Friday night game. Both are 3-0 in Summit Athletic Conference play, the only remaining conference unbeaten teams.
Prep showdown aside, Scott's lightning-quick drives vs. Blackmon's long-range sharpshooting is a showdown that has only just begun.
“It's exciting; we talk about it a lot,” Scott said. “He always talks about IU. I always talk about Purdue. We get each other mad talking about it. But at the end of the day, we're friends and we understand competition.”
“(The college destinations) give it an extra spark,” Blackmon said. “Once you step across that line, everything changes. We both want to win for our team and do the best we can do. I like to see him do good and he likes to see me succeed.”
Both succeeded at a young age, earning their national reputations through great play during summer Amateur Athletic Union basketball as well as their high school seasons. This season, Scott averages 26.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 3.9 steals per game and Blackmon averages 29.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
The fact they've both made early commitments to college takes some of the pressure of recruiting off their shoulders. But it adds something else: The curiosity factor of rabid college fans who can't get enough of their team's recruiting process and future potential.
“Especially when you're there on campus, it's crazy,” Blackmon said. “People already know who you are when you're walking around. When I'm at home, every time I know when the IU game is coming on. It's crazy in that gym and that's an atmosphere I'm ready to play in.”
Staying grounded takes work. Both players know they have to put the future on hold and concentrate on the present. Both have goals of leading their teams deep into the state tournament.
Scott said he watches Purdue games and envisions himself on the court.
“My coaches and my friends and family always keep my head where it needs to be,” Scott said. “I try to stay humble and keep myself where I need to be and stay focused. Every once in a while I get ahead of myself and think about the future.”
Scott and Blackmon have met three times in high school, with Northrop winning all three, including the holiday tournament and regular-season game last season and the holiday tournament game this year. Northrop beat Luers 83-73 in the SAC tourney title game Dec. 30 at Wayne.
“Our team can play more together,” Blackmon said. “We're a good team and we know we have the capability to win that game. We just have to go out there and do it and come together and do what we've been doing in practice.”
Northrop coach Barak Coolman said a number of factors from the first game preclude making any assumptions about what could happen on Friday.
The fact the tourney took place in compacted fashion, with both teams playing twice on the day of the championship means it's unwise to draw conclusions based on that first meeting, Coolman said.
Northrop has some extra incentive, however. Despite beating Luers last season in both games, Luers ended up with the SAC regular-season title by losing fewer conference games. Both teams have solid players around their well-known recruit, including Northrop's Brenton Scott and Bishop Luers' Jaylon Smith.
“Luers has kind of set the standard in the SAC and Northrop is trying to get there,” Coolman said. “Until we knock them off, or they maintain what they've built, that's the big story in my mind.”
Luers coach James Blackmon Sr. has the unique viewpoint of being both coach and father for James Jr., and has also known Scott since he was a young player.
Blackmon Sr. acknowledges the Indiana vs. Purdue connection adds some fun to an already healthy rivalry.
“Those guys have really worked hard to put themselves in position to get (scholarship) offers at an early age,” Blackmon Sr. said. “Bryson worked hard in the summer, when players are really made, and coach (Matt) Painter recognized his quality play. James was active and showed what he could do and had an opportunity to get that over with early. It takes a lot of pressure off a young player, and gives those guys a chance to concentrate on high school basketball and enjoying themselves.”
For fans, it's a nice mixture of the present and the future.
“It's interesting we're going to different places and they happen to be instate rivalries,” Bryson Scott said. “But we know we're going to love each other at the end of the day.”
The two players will team on the Spiece Indy Heat travel team this summer.
“This coming summer, when we're on the court together, we want to try to show we're the best guards in Indiana in both our classes, so we'll try to get each other better,” Blackmon Jr. said.
They'll be back to their rivalry after that, and the year after, and the year after...
“I'm looking to beat the Boilers, too, down the path,” Blackmon Jr. said.
This friendly rivalry's just getting started.