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:
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.