Freshman Focus: James Blackmon Jr.

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“Freshman Focus” is an Inside the Hall series on each of Indiana’s five incoming freshmen. Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined the impact each freshman can have for the Hoosiers next season. Today, the series concludes with James Blackmon Jr. (Previously: Max HoetzelRobert JohnsonJeremiah April, Tim Priller.)

When Marion guard James Blackmon Jr. decided to reopen his recruitment last August, his decision had the potential to turn into a crushing blow for Indiana’s class of 2014 recruiting efforts.

Indiana began recruiting Blackmon Jr. before his freshman season at Ft. Wayne Luers, where he would go on to play his first three high school seasons, and secured a commitment from him in September of 2010. To give some perspective on just how long Indiana had Blackmon Jr. in the fold, his commitment came before Cody Zeller took his official visit to Bloomington.

But unlike other recruits across the country who have chosen to cut ties and go a different direction after making an early commitment, Blackmon Jr. still had genuine interest in attending Indiana.

“Indiana is at the top of my list,” he told Inside the Hall last August. “I still like Indiana. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end back up at Indiana.”

The Hoosier coaching staff, led by Tom Crean, continued to pursue the nation’s top shooting guard diligently as Blackmon Jr. visited Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan and Michigan State. His offer list also included schools like Kansas and North Carolina.

After official visits to Ann Arbor, Lexington and Bloomington, Blackmon Jr. set a decision date of Oct. 31. The plan was to make his decision in front of a national television audience on ESPNU.

No one had this recruitment pegged down for sure as Blackmon Jr. seemed to truly be wavering right up until the moment he was to take the air:

In a press conference last November where he discussed the 2014 signees, Crean explained just how down to the wire the decision was for Blackmon Jr.

“I didn’t truly know he was coming until he got on that air that night,” Crean explained. “I knew what our last conversations were like. I know what those were like, without question, and I knew what he wanted to do when he got up there. But actually going up there and doing it and pulling out that hat, I wasn’t shocked but it wasn’t like I had the smile going into it. We needed to see him put that hat on. We really did.”

With Blackmon Jr. back in the fold, a major recruiting win for the program, Indiana had addressed its major need in the class of 2014.

The Hoosiers had already added Robert Johnson, a top 50 guard from Richmond (Va.), and Max Hoetzel, a forward from Wilbraham and Monson Academy (Mass.) and the addition of Blackmon Jr. gave Indiana arguably the best collection of incoming shooters in the land.

So where does Blackmon Jr. fit in on next year’s team? He should instantly slide into the starting lineup alongside Yogi Ferrell, which will give Indiana a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans in the backcourt.

“I think I can come in and play (right away),” he told Inside the Hall last month. “Coach Crean made that obvious to me, but I’m going to have to work really hard to get that spot and that’s what I’m going to do.”

His performances during his final high school season suggest that Blackmon Jr. will be able to make a major impact from the start.

In addition to being named to the McDonald’s All-American game, he was also selected for the USA Basketball national select team that played in the Nike Hoop Summit as well the Jordan Brand Classic. He finished his high school career with 2,387 points, which ranks in the top 10 on the state’s all-time scoring list. And in the Indiana-Kentucky all star series, he scored 64 points in two games, the third highest total ever for an Indiana player.

Those types of performances are a big reason that Indiana should be an improved 3-point shooting team despite finishing third in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage last season.

“James is a phenomenal shooter with phenomenal range,” Crean said last November. “He’s getting better every day with his ball handling, with his driving. He is one of the best open court players that I have ever personally been a part of recruiting. He’s growing.”

  • calbert40

    It depends on the type of full court pressure we play. If the intention is a TO, we may get a few of those, but that type of pressure also leads to easy fast break opportunities on the other end. With our lack of depth at the back end of that pressure being suspect, that would be inadvisable, IMO.

    However, if the intention of the pressure was simply to require the opposition to take more time getting into their set offense, and we always kept the ball in front of us, I think that type of pressure is something we may see occasionally from this group.

  • calbert40

    It is a lot to ask of any freshman to start at a B1G program, but Yogi will provide him some insulation on unrealistic expectations. This will still be Yogi’s team. Yogi will be on the short list for preseason POY. If JBJ can play up to that level, all the better for us.

    I think JBJ can/could have a freshman season similar to Gary Harris’s first year at MSU: 13 ppg, 2.5 rpg, start from day 1, etc. Harris shot 41 percent from 3 that year, and that may be hard to duplicate, and he was nearly as good on D as he was shooting, but I think JBJ could have as strong a year offensively.

  • IUMIKE1

    You’re probably right about the numbers, but I feel reasonably sure that he will surpass NV’s ppg numbers. Think that the impact part is right but probably should have coupled that aspect with high per game averages in other stats that are more guard oriented, which I think is entirely possible or him to do. After it’s all said and done I think that there is just as good a chance that he’s gone after one year as there is that he isn’t. He is probably going to have to have those kind of numbers if we are going to have a lot better year than last year. Kind of a double edged sword I guess.

  • IUMIKE1

    If his numbers don’t make it overwhelmingly obvious he can go and be drafted highly then it might help him decide to come back for a second year. But if his numbers are where they need to be to go I think he promises Mom that he will go back and get his degree at a later date and goes then Mom clenches her jaw and says ok…..but I’m going to need you to sign this written agreement saying that you will, for sure, do just that. lol

  • Corey M

    I understand your comment, but D. Rose is far from having a slight build

  • Snookafly

    He’s not Kevin McHale skinny, but D. Rose has also had three years to sit around lifting weights without the wear of a full season. He’s definitely always been muscular (i.e. “cut”), but he’s still wiry– especially when he was in college.

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