Layton • Jarriesse Blackmon didn’t know it then, but the pair of conversations he had that day would change his life. His mind often drifts back to them, and the Lancer forward shares the story while standing outside the Layton gym before basketball practice. He smiles because he knows it is the reason he is here.
Blackmon’s eighth-grade season at Fairfield Junior High had ended that day, and a postgame talk with his coach had soured his spirit. His playing time had waned after starting a few games early in the season, and his coach was brutally honest when Blackmon told him he wanted to play in high school the following season.
School » Layton
Year » Junior
Position » Forward
"He told me if I wasn’t starting at the junior high level, I wouldn’t even make the team in high school," Blackmon recalls.
When he arrived home later that day, he found his father in the kitchen. He shared with him what his coach had said. Blackmon still remembers his father’s face, just as surely as he remembers the words that came from his mouth. They breathed fire into Blackmon, setting him on a path that has turned him from an overlooked player struggling on his junior high team to a Division I recruit in just a few years.
"I was really upset and I told my father, who said there was only one thing to do: ‘You’re going to have to get in the gym and work,’" Blackmon said. "My junior high coach fueled me. That’s what kind of inspired me to get better."
Blackmon heeded his father’s words in the offseason following his eighth-grade year. He and his father, a former college athlete, spent tireless hours in the gym improving his skills and understanding of the game. He only had begun playing basketball when a football injury in sixth grade opened his eyes to the hardwood. And for the first time in his life, Blackmon was devoting the entirety of his focus to basketball.
The effort Blackmon put in that offseason allowed his potential to shine through the unpolished, rough edges of his game. Though the game did not come naturally to Blackmon, the skills that would make him one of the most gifted players in the state — size, speed, explosive athleticism — did. When Layton coach Kelby Miller watched him play that summer, he saw those attributes and recognized that Blackmon was a work-in-progress that could yield large dividends if he could hone the talent.
"I would classify him as a kid who had a lot of ability but didn’t really know too much about where he should be and what he should be doing at certain times of a possession," Miller said. "He’s come a long way.
"He spends a lot of time, individually, on his game. And in the summer, he plays AAU and things of that nature. So that, with some God-given ability, has put him where he is right now."
Miller’s faith in Blackmon proved to be crucial to his development. He began learning from players who’d been playing their whole lives and had tasted success, like Lancers big man Mike Hibbert. He began to understand just what would be expected of him if he was to become the player he hoped to be.
"Making the high school team in ninth grade was huge for me," Blackmon said. "Coach Miller sat me down and let me know, ‘Young man, you’ve made it, but what are you going to do now to get better?’"
Blackmon is capitalizing on the chance Miller took on him not even three full seasons from the day his junior high coach told him he wasn’t good enough. He was averaging 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a game entering Friday, according to MaxPreps.com.
"He’s pretty good. When he puts his mind to it, I don’t know of anybody else in the state that’s as good as he is," Miller said. "That’s me maybe being a little biased, but they say numbers don’t lie. Well, look at the numbers. I don’t know of anyone else averaging a double-double right now."
As far as Blackmon has come, he sees a long way to go. He has been in contact with many Division I schools but has yet to receive an offer. Like the conversations with his father and junior high coach, he also uses that for motivation.
"I still have a lot to prove," Blackmon said, relaying the story of a college coach who told him he wanted to see him take his game to the next level this season. "Them telling me that, I may be good, but I still need to improve. Maybe I haven’t proven myself, so this is a big season for me. I want to prove that I am the real deal."
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