Top 15 recruit Antonio Blakeney has made the ‘jump’ — literally — to elite status


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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Antonio Blakeney has been a star in the state of Florida for a couple of years now, having averaged 24.8 points as a sophomore that earned first-team all-state honors. He’s been a relevant name on the recruiting trail for quite some time as well, having latched on with the Amare Stoudamire-backed Each 1 Teach 1 AAU program.

During the summer after his sophomore season, Blakeney made enough of a name for himself during the summer that he was listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals, and although he was unable to crack their top 50 at the time, he was still getting recruiting attention from a number of high-profile programs from around the southeast.

Blakeney found himself slowly creeping up the rankings throughout his junior season, but it wasn’t until May that he went from being another really good basketball player to the kind of prospect that everyone needs to pay attention. And it was one moment, captured on video, that made the statement for him:

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I’ll be honest: saying that one dunk during one game at an event in Georgia that wasn’t even during a live period changed the course of a players recruitment is ridiculous, and that’s not the point that I’m trying to make here. Blakeney plays on the same AAU team as Ben Simmons, the No. 1 player in the country, as well as Ohio State-bound Daniel Giddens, top 150 recruit Alex Owens and 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall. He was going to be seen this summer. Those offers were going to roll in.

The reason that dunk was significant is that it was a definitive statement that Blakeney’s game was changing.

It’s never been a secret that Blakeney, a 6-foot-3 scoring guard, is able to get buckets with the best of them. He’s always been a natural scorer, a kid that can light it up from beyond the arc and that can break down a defender one-on-one. “I’ve always been able to score the ball,” Blakeney told NBCSports at the Peach Jam last week, but he hasn’t always been able to jump like that. He’s turned into the kind of next-level athlete that has a chance to play at the next level and beyond, and I’m not the only one that has noticed.

Louisville has long considered Blakeney a top priority, as he spent quite a bit of time playing in front of head coach Rick Pitino this July and has already had an unofficial visit to the campus. He’d be a nice fit in Louisville’s back court, but he’s far from a lock to wind up there as programs like Florida, Kansas and North Carolina, among many others are also in contention.

Two weeks ago, however, Blakeney got the biggest of the big fish on his trail, as John Calipari offered him a scholarship to Kentucky.

“They don’t offer everybody,” Blakeney said. “They’ve only offered a couple other people. I don’t really think about it at all, [but] Kentucky only recruits pros, so if they offer me, it means they think I’m a pro.”

The next step for Blakeney is to continue to improve his efficiency with the ball in his hands. As he put it, “to score with less shots.” Playing on a team that included quite a bit of talent, Blakeney finished fifth at the Peach Jam in scoring, averaging 20.8 points, but he had a tendency to settle for some tough shots. He shot just 9-for-38 from beyond the arc in his six games in North Augusta, but he did show off a much-improved mid-range game. He made floaters and pull-ups, even drilling a few step-back jumpers.

“I think it was just a tightening my game change,” said of his recent improvement. “My game got better, my handles got tighter, my shot got better. I just got better. The shots I’m taking are going in.”

The good news for the teams recruiting him is that Blakeney hasn’t reached his ceiling yet. His development over the last year is evidence that he’s been in the gym, working on his game, and with the strides he can still make in terms of shot selection and three-point consistency, it’s no wonder the top programs in the country are on his trail.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”