REGGIE HAYES: Jalen Blackmon keeps Marion High School family basketball tradition alive and well
OSSIAN – Jalen Blackmon tries not to dwell on the tons of great plays, great wins and great memories generated by all the Blackmons before him.
The Marion High School freshman guard is his own young man, cool and calm with a lifetime of basketball confidence built in.
He’s following a path forged by his father, James Sr., a Marion High legend, and his brothers James Jr., and Vijay. All have hit their shots, won their memorable games, made their marks and moved on to college and beyond.
Could the Blackmons be saving the best for last?
“I try not to put that pressure on myself,” Jalen Blackmon said after scoring 20 points in Marion’s 75-52 win over Norwell in the Class 3A sectional semfinal Friday at Norwell. “I just try to come out and have fun.’
Jalen Blackmon leads a young team. His backcourt running mate JK Thomas (17 points vs. Norwell) is only a sophomore. There are other youngsters in the rotation and only three players who have previously logged any significant time in a sectional.
“We’re young,” Marion coach James Blackmon Sr. said. “But look at what we’ve accomplished this year.”
Marion is 18-6, with all of its losses to Class 4A schools. Two of those losses came on plays or missed chances in the final seconds of games. The Giants won three of four overtime games. The way they set the tone against Norwell, with a swarming trap on the Norwell guards, showed a tenacity and willingness to work, which the best teams always display. Norwell’s inside tandem of Will Geiger (24 points) and Brandon Nicholson (20 points) played well, but Marion clamped down on everyone else.
Marion will play Mississinewa for the sectional title at 7:30 tonight at Norwell. Mississinewa beat Bishop Luers 52-34 in the other semifinal Friday at Norwell.
Jalen Blackmon’s age doesn’t stop him from being a team leader, like his father and brothers before him.
“I feel like we’re at our highest point this season,” Jalen Blackmon said. “Everybody’s moving the ball, everybody’s knocking down shots. The big guys are grabbing rebounds and making layups. We’re doing great.”
James Blackmon has coached all of his sons, starting with James Jr. at Bishop Luers and Marion and Vijay at Marion. Jalen was along for the ride during all of that time, an observer of what it takes to excel and win.
“My brothers showed me how to work hard,” Jalen Blackmon said. “I’ve been in this type of environment with both of my brothers. They both taught me equally.”
James Blackmon Sr. expects plenty out of his son, as any father would.
He has learned the way to push, to apply the right amount of pressure, and to demand excellence.
“I treat (my sons) like all the other players, but I’m a little bit harder,” James Blackmon said. “They have to understand they have to set the tone. I’m not going to allow one of my boys to do something when other guys aren’t getting away with it. I’m harder on my boys.”
Jalen Blackmon displays the familiar family skill of being able to find his own shot, whether from three-point range, or with an off-the-dribble move to the hoop. He has patience beyond his age. When Norwell tried to double team him and force the ball out of his hands, he relied on his teammates. He let the game come to him.
“I feel like Jalen Blackmon can control the game,” Norwell coach Mike McBride said. “You have to look at his pedigree. You’ve got his dad, his two brothers. We have the utmost respect for him. Our game plan was to get the ball out of his hands and make him a passer, and he made some nice passes.”
Marion is probably too young to make a serious run at the Class 3A state title, but it’s hard to say that definitively. Younger players spend so much time on the AAU or summer ball circuit, they aren’t necessarily intimidated when they’re freshmen and sophomores.
Marion has some size, including 6-foot-6 Quran Howard-Clement and 6-5 Zachariah Randolph, and a number of strong perimeter players.
“When they shoot well, they can beat anybody,” McBride said. “I would say them, New Castle, CMA (Culver Military Academy) and Mishawaka Marian – any of those four teams has a good shot coming out of the north.”
James Blackmon Sr. looks at his team and sees one that can beat any team on any given night.
“These guys are ready to compete,” James Blackmon said. “We have a very talented team, the makeup of the team is established and guys understand their roles and are playing to their strengths.”
Jalen Blackmon, the freshman and the latest in the Blackmon lineage, is the point man for making this Giants team run. By the time he’s a senior, he could have a legacy all his own.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.