MARION – On the outskirts of town, a sign outside of a Marion bar holds a simple, four-word message.
“We Want James Blackmon”.
Well Marion, you got him.
The coach that led Bishop Luers to a pair of state championships and 164 victories over nine seasons officially returned to his alma mater on Wednesday night, being unanimously approved at a school board meeting as the next head basketball coach at Marion.
“It feels great to be home,” Blackmon said.
Marion Athletic Director Greg Peden - himself a former boys' basketball coach in Fort Wayne at Northrop - said that Blackmon will hold a yet-to-be-decided administrative position within the school system.
With Blackmon to Marion will come sons James Blackmon Jr. and Vijay, who will suit up next season for the program their father played for from 1979-83.
“My kids now are going to finish school in Fort Wayne (this year) because school is almost out,” Blackmon Sr. said. “When you move it is always a transition, but we are excited about it and look forward to it.”
Two years ago, drama reigned as Blackmon Sr. initially accepted the then-vacant Marion coaching job, then backed out after several days of contemplation.
Since Blackmon Sr. chose to stay at Bishop Luers in 2011, the Giants have gone a combined 19-25 under Coach Billy Shepherd with a pair of first-round sectional exits. He subsequently resigned after this year's 10-13 campaign, the fourth consecutive sub-.500 season for the Giants.
This time, there were no second thoughts.
“Timing is everything,” Blackmon Sr. said. “Two years (ago) was a lot different situation than the one we're in right now. This feels like a great opportunity.”
While Blackmon Sr. did not go into detail on his family's plans on where they will take up residence, his sons will exit Northeast Indiana and head south to play for the Giants. His wife currently heads a medical practice in Fort Wayne.
“We are going to take it day-by-day,” Blackmon Sr. said. “My wife's situation is totally different than the situation I am in right now. We are just excited about this opportunity to be the Marion Giants basketball coach.”
Blackmon Sr. said it was mixed feelings for his kin as they prepare to leave their comfort zone.
“Kids are always afraid of change,” Blackmon Sr. said. “When we left Marion (to go to Fort Wayne) when my kids were young, they cried like babies. They matured and we are in a different situation now. This is another challenge and they look forward to that challenge.
“I think they are excited and pretty eager to get started.”
During his tenure with Bishop Luers, Blackmon Sr. took over a program that did not have a single conference or postseason championship. Over nine years, the Knights won a pair of SAC championships, five sectionals, two regionals, two semistates and state titles in 2008 and 2009.
Under Blackmon Sr., Deshaun Thomas scored 3,018 career points at Bishop Luers, good for third overall in Indiana High School Basketball history. Thomas is expected to be a lottery pick out of Ohio State in this year's NBA Draft.
“There are a lot of great people (at Bishop Luers),” Blackmon Sr. said. “Those relationships are not going to stop just because you move. I appreciate everything Luers did for me.
“Without Bishop Luers, I wouldn't be in this position right now.”
While building a program at Bishop Luers and competing in such a talent-rich area was rewarding for Blackmon Sr., the allure of his alma mater was too much to pass up a second time.
“We got lots of support when I was coaching up in Fort Wayne,” Blackmon Sr. said. “But just to come back home and see how much people are excited about Marion Giants basketball … it's going to be a great opportunity.”