USC basketball coach Tony Bland was just a week removed from the second round of NCAA Basketball Tournament when he found himself watching a different kind of 64 team tourney.
Anthony Bland, Tony’s son, played for Seven60 in the Southern California Passing Down Tournament two weeks ago. The La Jolla Country Day freshman decided before he got to high school that football would be his main sport instead of basketball.
“He wasn’t a football player growing up,” said his father. “He was strictly basketball. His mom would take him to tournaments every week, and it was to the point where he was getting ranked in basketball.
“He actually had ESPN at one of his games, and that was the game he called me over and told me he didn’t really want to play basketball anymore. I didn’t really take it any kind of way — I just wanted to be supportive of my son.
“He went out for football, and I drove up to a tournament his team had at San Diego State. He had no footwork or technique, but he ended up catching four touchdown passes in one of his first games.
“After seeing that, I started investing in him playing football, so he can help me retire early.”
As a 2020 recruit, Anthony Bland is in the infancy of his football career and recruitment. He has been in contact with BYU, UNLV, Minnesota, San Diego State, Indiana and Oklahoma State.
He unofficially visited Stillwater last month.
“It was really cool because it was not like L.A. or San Diego where there is city everywhere,” said Anthony. “Stillwater is Oklahoma State, and I liked that.
“It was different. I’m looking at schools that are different from what I’ve already seen. I like the Ivy League schools, Duke… schools on the East Coast with good academics. I like those college town type atmospheres.”
Bland has plenty of time to visit those schools and compare them with what he already knows about USC. Granted, his dad has his own opinions on college.
“I’m going to cut him off if he doesn’t go to USC,” laughed Bland. “No, I’m going to support him to make his own legacy. He’s a high academic kid, and that’s the main thing.
“He loves USC, and hopefully he keeps loving USC. When I was growing up, USC was my dream school in football. I grew up following the Trojans, but Anthony has to do his own thing.”
And in a way, he already is by playing football and lacrosse instead of basketball. For his father, who coaches and recruits on the hardwood for a living, the process will still be approached carefully.
“Recruiting in basketball, you see every angle parents take,” said Tony Bland. “I think for me, I want to keep things small.
“We’re going to have him train and do some 7-on-7, but we’re not going to have him all over the place trying to get exposure. He just turned 15-years-old and is 6-foot-3, 175-pounds. The important part for him now is development.
“Whether it means put him out there against pros or just better high school players, I want him to get his butt ripped. I want him to be challenged so he can grow.
“He had like eight touchdowns in a couple of games playing JV, so they moved him up to varsity,” his father continued. “It’s been pretty easy for him thus far, so now he’s getting into the 7-on-7 tournaments and getting challenged by better competition.”
Having recruited the AAU circuit in high school basketball, Bland has unique insight into how offseason training in football compares.
“Back in the day, once the football season was over, it was mostly just weight training,” said Bland. “Now you see coaches hustling to get good players on their 7-on-7 teams and hustling to get sponsorships.
“From that standpoint, there’s some correlation. But basketball is a different beast because you’re flying all over the country for tournaments. At the top end, you have people making their whole salary for the year off of AAU basketball.”
With 25 allotted scholarships a year and an 85 scholarship limit in football, the moving
That means little to Anthony. Just getting his feet wet with football, he simply looks forward to playing the game he sees as an avenue to a college education.
“I was kind of worried to tell my dad I didn’t want to play basketball,” said Bland. “He was fine with it, and I think he saw that football was what I really wanted to do.
“But with recruiting, I don’t even really know who is recruiting me the hardest or what they think of me. I leave that to my dad so I can focus on school and my team. When the time comes, I’ll start to worry about offers, but right now, I don’t think about that stuff.”