TOM DAVIS: Carson Blair was ‘glue of Southwood’ through the bitter end
INDIANAPOLIS – The last on-the-court act of the most prolific basketball player in the history of Southwood High School just may have been his most impressive.
Knight senior Carson Blair was being subbed out in the final moments of his team’s blowout by Morristown in the IHSAA Class A State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and as the five starters – all seniors – walked to the bench, only one had the awareness of how to handle himself with extreme dignity during the most distressing time in his athletic career.
“Blair has always been the glue of this group,” veteran Southwood coach John Burrus said following the loss. “Whenever we get a little bit out of sorts, he brings us back in.”
This is not a criticism of the other young athletes, none acted “out of sorts” in terms of behaving improperly, but it was Blair that went over and shook the hands of each of the reserve players before they checked into the game.
I don’t know exactly why he did that, but he did, and it showed leadership and maturity that Blair has often demonstrated beyond his years.
Blair was honored postgame with the Ray Craft Mental Attitude Award and it was incredibly well deserved.
“That is hard for a student-athlete to do,” Burrus said of the leadership that Blair has demonstrated. “When you are dealing with the pressure of being in front of all of these people, but he always brings us in. Today was another example of that.”
As the 89-60 rout got away from Southwood, it was Blair that continually kept telling his teammates to keep working and keep trying, as he tried valiantly to lift their spirits.
The Knights (25-4) misfired on 46 of their 72 shots (36 percent) and no one struggled Saturday as much as Blair, who finished making just 3 of his 20 shots.
But he never let that frustrating performance show on the court or in timeouts or in the final moments of his career.
“When things weren’t going well,” Burrus said, “Blair was still Carson Blair, the guy that is the glue of Southwood.”
The Ray Craft Mental Attitude Award isn’t based on 32 minutes of positivity, and Blair wasn’t putting on a show for the 13,127 fans that braved a rare March blizzard to make it to the arena. Being a leader is simply who this guy is.
SETTING THE TONE
It is interesting to note that Blair, who didn’t even lead the Knights in scoring this season, is actually the all-time leading scorer, not just in Southwood history, but in all of Wabash County.
He could have entered this season with high expectations for himself, but that wouldn’t have been who he was.
“He could have scored a bunch of points for us,” Burrus told News-Sentinel.com earlier this month, “but we would have been just OK as a team.”
Blair couldn’t have lived with himself if that occurred and no individual honor could have erased his disappointment.
“Carson does things on our team that don’t even extend into the community,” Burrus said. “In some situations, he could score 30 or 40 points easily.”
What Burrus meant was that the leadership that Blair exhibited not only helped this specific team evolve, but he did it in subtle ways, which most aren’t cognizant of.
As mentioned, Blair wasn’t even the leading scorer on this team, but he was second in assists, and he was only 16 points away from being the THIRD-leading scorer on his team.
The remainder of the Knights’ starting five combined to take 1,151 shots this year (nearly 10 shots per game average). Blair never wanted this to be the ‘Carson Blair Show.’
“He decided that on this team, this year,” Burrus continued, “we were all going to be better and we were going to be a connected group, because of him and our seniors.”
LEARNING FROM HIS ELDERS
If you are curious as to where Blair learned these lessons of humility – and athletic greatness – you don’t have to look far.
For years, Blair wasn’t even the leading scorer at his own kitchen table, let alone his school or county.
Todd Blair was the Knights’ all-time leader in points for a long time, and still holds some records, but his son surpassed him in scoring, but did so in a prideful way.
“It means a lot,” Blair said of earning the Mental Attitude Award, “From when I was younger, my dad brought me up and told me to just play the game, don’t talk, just play the game and play it right.”
The lessons of Todd and Tonya Blair must have carried over some off the court, as well.
Todd Blair never pursued a post-high school athletic career, and neither is Carson – at this time.
As good as Carson has been in sports, that is how solid he is in the classroom, as well. He has plans to take his 3.72 grades to Indiana University Kokomo and he told News-Sentinel.com during football season that he’d like earn his degree and someday impact young people just as his mentors have guided for him.
“I feel like (college athletics) is more like a job,” Blair said last fall. “I don’t know if I want to do that, because high school is fun. You are out here with all of your friends. College is a different experience and you have to focus on your school work.”
Saturday’s loss or not participating at the next level won’t diminish anything regarding Blair or any of his teammates or coaches for that matter.
This team was the most successful in Southwood High School history and the mature, humble, and ultra-talented Carson Blair was a seismic reason as to why.
“Nobody is ever going to forget this group,” Burrus said. “People will be talking about these guys, 20, 25 years from now. It’s been incredible.”
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.