JAMES' STORY: Part Three

He's Indiana's star basketball recruit in the 2014, but James Blackmon Jr. followed a long and winding road to end up with Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. This is how Blackmon Jr. ended up a Hoosier. This is James' Story. (Part 3 of a 3-part feature).



Back to Indiana

Blackmon Jr. received a number of new offers in the weeks that followed his decommitment, but he quickly whittled it down to just four schools: Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana. James and his family took a visit to a number of schools and heard all the pitches. And there were a lot of them.

"It's difficult because everybody is putting their best foot forward so you see only the good," Saila Blackmon says. "Everything looks great, so it's sometimes hard to decide what's the best fit. I'm glad that we did it, we met a lot of wonderful people. It's nice when we see people on TV now we kind of feel like we know some of them. But it was also difficult because you are trying to find the best place for your son. The relationship he built with the coaches at IU was over a three-year period versus a three-month period. I think he just had a lot more trust in them. It's hard to know who to trust because everybody is saying what you want to hear."

By the time James was ready to announce his decision at halftime of an ESPNU-televised football game on Halloween, he was down to just two schools: Kentucky and Indiana.

Leading up to his decision, nearly every expert projected Blackmon Jr. to Kentucky. It made sense. His father played there, he seemed to have severed ties with Indiana permanently, and Kentucky had made him a priority.

But when Oct. 31 arrived, all of a sudden, the experts shifted. Rumors were spreading that James Jr. wanted to play for Crean and the Hoosiers after all.

In the end, those rumors proved true. On national TV, Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana … again.

"I knew who he was gonna pick the day before," Vijay says. "He told me and then I was just there for him."

"I think the relationship overall was a big thing," Saila says. "He needed to just go out and see what else was offered because he hadn't seen it. But in the end, the relationship he had with the coaches … It was a big thing that they stood by and him and supported him through that. That was always in the back of our minds."

After everything -- the decommitment, the ill-wishing, the criticism -- Blackmon Jr. was a Hoosier again. And that was the most important thing. Crean had his star recruit back, and the future suddenly looked very bright again in Bloomington. Finally, the pressure was off for James Jr. The recruitment was over. He could return to his regular life, to being a kid again.

"It was really tough for my family," James Jr. says. "Probably the biggest decision my family has made. It was just really hard to choose because they were all great. Once you see all those big programs you could see yourself out, you just start to think a lot. You put a lot of time into just thinking."

"He was totally different [after the decision]," Saila says. "In those few months, he was really distracted. It was stressful. He was able to get his focus back and focus on playing instead of thinking, 'Where should I go? What should I do?' It was definitely a big relief."

A Brotherly Bond

After Blackmon Jr. reopened his recruitment and began to visit a number of new schools, his little brother Vijay was always by his side. He went on all of the visits with James and heard anything and everything each coach told and promised him.

It had always been that way. James and Vijay were close growing up and constantly pushed each other to be better in whatever it was they were doing. The brothers have been playing 1-on-1 in the driveway for years, and they continue to do so to this day.

"It's pretty heated," Vijay says. "It seems like at the end, he'll do whatever it takes and he'll always win. No matter what, he always wins."

Really, Vijay? You've never won?

"I probably have a couple times, but not really. He's always won."

Vijay has always looked up to his older brother and says James has taught him a lot about both life and basketball over the years. The brothers grew even closer when they started playing on the same AAU teams when James was a fourth grader and Vijay, a second grader.

"He told me once that you always have to have something that separates yourself from others," Vijay says. "Like if you're on a team with people that have the same talent as you, you have to work harder and do something different to make yourself stand out."

Now, both James and Vijay are in the starting lineup for the Marion Giants, a team coached by Blackmon Sr. As of Thursday, Marion was 10-4 with a win over highly-ranked Hamilton Southeastern back in December.

Blackmon Jr. is having another big year, averaging better than 30 points per game, but Vijay has also been a significant contributor.

"It's been fun," Vijay says. "I have to learn my role, that it's his team and listen to him because he's the leader. It's just hard because we sometimes bump heads, but I think we'll be good."

It has been a unique, sometimes challenging, situation for James and Vijay playing for their father at a school he played for so long ago. Blackmon Sr. has been coaching his sons for years, both in AAU ball and at Luers, but it's a little different now with all three family members a part of the same high school team.

"It's really tough," James Jr. says. "He's been one of my coaches for awhile. It's tough at times because he'll get on me first before anyone else. He expects more out of his kids. He wants us to get better, and we understand that as players. I kind of want a coach to get on me because if he gets on you, he knows you can do better than what you're doing. At the same time, he just gives you the greatest advice he can give you as a coach. His advice isn't to hurt you, it's to make you better. That's what I've come to understand, even though sometimes it might come in a hard way."

The Next Step

We're just a few months away from Blackmon Jr. and the other 2014 signees stepping on campus as students for the first time. He still has a promising high school season to finish up, but he says he can't wait to finally put on the Cream and Crimson.

James Jr. is one of the top-ranked players in the 2014 class, and like most basketball players, he has visions of playing in the NBA someday. So how long will he be at Indiana? Could he be a one-and-done candidate?

"I think I have the ability to be," James Jr. says. "That's not really up to me. It's up to the NBA scouts. That's a major goal for me and I think I am capable of being one and done. I think that can actually happen. But if it doesn't, I think I'll be alright and I'll just keep working toward it.

"My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA. That's every basketball player's dream. I've been working hard to make that come true. In two years, if I'm not at IU, in the NBA. And in five years, in the NBA."

For now, James is focused on being a Hoosier. After a long, winding road, Blackmon Jr. is close to calling Bloomington his new home.

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