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Blackmon Jr. calmly rides the wave of hype

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For more on Indiana high school basketball, follow The News-Sentinel.com crew and Justin Kenny via Twitter at PrepHoops_ns and Jkenny_ns.

Indiana recruit stays cool with immense expectations

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 5:59 am

INDIANAPOLIS – James Blackmon Jr. is by nature a quiet kid.

Instead of hyping himself up in the media or on social media, his performances on the court do the talking.

He is more comfortable retweeting others giving him props for his play than typing the words himself.

He doesn't seek out the limelight; he's just a laid-back teenager … with the weight of Hoosier Nation on his shoulders.

The thunderous applause Blackmon Jr. received during his introduction in the Indiana-Kentucky Senior All-Star Game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night was another example of what he is being perceived as by many Indiana fans.

James Blackmon Jr. is a savior.

It is unfair, of course. Yes, he is a five-star recruit who can take over a game, any game. He proved that twice over the weekend, dropping 41 on Kentucky on Friday and 23 on Saturday. The combined 64 points are the third-most in the interstate series, behind only George McGinnis in 1969 (76 points) and Oscar Robertson in 1956 (75).

The performances helped Indiana run its streak of consecutive victories over Kentucky to 13 games with wins of 104-94 and 111-99.

Blackmon Jr. displays an effortless shot, an almost casual approach to the game that only the true elite players exhibit. He can climb the ladder for a dunk and he sees the floor like a point guard, fitting passes into incredibly tight spaces for baskets.

Yet when hounded by the media or relentlessly pestered for pictures and autographs, Blackmon Jr. retreats back into his shell. He is quiet and humble, always quick to reap praise on teammates.

Blackmon Jr. could act like a jerk, blow off fans and ignore a question that he has already answered four times in five minutes, but he doesn't. He engages with fans, never denying anyone who wants a handshake or a quick photo.

Over the past year, Blackmon Jr. has gotten plenty of practice at being the center of attention. When his dad took the boys' coaching job at Marion last spring, he became an instant celebrity throughout town. He was the one that was going to lead Marion Giants basketball back to glory.

Seemingly overnight, Bill Green Athletic Arena was full again for home games, with the hype unmatched since the days of the Purple Reign in the mid-1980s that won three consecutive state championships.

Blackmon Jr. did his part, averaging 33.2 points per game as Marion went 18-5.

He satisfied a town's urge for a winner, now he will be trying to help satisfy a massive fan base's prayers for a winner.

The next step in Blackmon Jr.'s career will be much bigger, but he does not appear to be sweating it. He said Saturday that he expects to report to Bloomington on Tuesday, where he will begin his preparations for his freshman campaign with the Hoosiers.

In all likelihood, Blackmon Jr. cannot wait to be a college athlete simply due to the restrictions imposed on availability. He will not be constantly hounded outside locker rooms or on the court following games from fans. While he has always been gracious with his time, Blackmon Jr. will surely enjoy being a normal kid again.

A normal kid with a mountain of expectations.

Expectations he has handled flawlessly thus far.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Justin Kenny at jkenny@news-sentinel.com.