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Marion's James Blackmon Sr. navigates season without a son

Marion High School coach James Blackmon Sr. points during action in Marion's 69-63 win over Bishop Luers on Tuesday at Bishop Luers. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel)
Marion High School coach James Blackmon Sr. points during action in Marion's 69-63 win over Bishop Luers on Tuesday at Bishop Luers. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel)
Marion High School guard Tim Leavell, right, rises to the basket against the defense of Bishop Luers' Blane Cook on Tuesday at Bishop Luers. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel)
Marion High School guard Tim Leavell, right, rises to the basket against the defense of Bishop Luers' Blane Cook on Tuesday at Bishop Luers. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel)

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For more on prep sports, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

He returns to old stomping grounds at Luers and grabs a win.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 12:14 AM
Marion High School coach James Blackmon Sr. looks around the locker room these days and doesn’t see another Blackmon. That’s unusual. And temporary.

Two of his sons who used to be at his side wear college uniforms now – James Jr. at Indiana University and Vijay at Saint Francis. The next Blackmon guard – Jalen – is an eighth grader. So he’s on the way.

“It’s a little different not having my son there, but I have the same responsibilities,” Blackmon Sr. said. “I’m trying to be a father figure to all these guys and, at the same time, make some of our goals happen.”

Blackmon returned to the high school where he first coached his sons on Tuesday, leading Marion to a 69-63 win over Bishop Luers at Luers. Blackmon coached at Luers from 2004-05 to 2012-13, winning Class 2A state titles in 2008 and 2009. He is in his fourth season at Marion, coming off a 3A state title last season when Vijay was a senior.

The decision to return to Marion when James Jr. was a senior, was a tough one, but the pull to help restore glory to Marion was strong. James Sr. is one of the all-time great players to come out of Marion.

The program had fallen on hard times when he stepped in, having suffered four straight sub-.500 seasons. The Giants are 59-27 since Blackmon took over.

“It’s always good to go home,” Blackmon said. “As far as the tradition of Marion High School, I was a part of that and I play a different role now as a coach. It’s just a special place. Last year we had great success and we were happy to come back strong in such a short period of time. To make that happen again is one of the goals we’re trying to fight for.”

Marion is 3-5 this season after the win over Luers, as Blackmon rebuilds with almost an entirely new team. He has two players with significant experience from last year, guard Tim Leavell, who scored 23 points Tuesday night, and 6-foot-11 center Gage Pinkerton, who missed the game due to illness. Both players are seniors.

He has some young talent, too, in sophomore center Dre Aguilar, who scored 12 points against Luers, junior Tyrese Cobb (seven points) and freshman Jakylyn Thomas (six points).

Blackmon said it was rewarding to return to Luers, see some familiar faces and pull out a win.

“We had a little talk about the history before we played, so the guys knew exactly what Luers has meant to me,” Blackmon said. “I appreciate them coming in and playing hard, and that’s what we wanted.”

Luers led 52-48 entering the fourth quarter and had a five-point lead with five minutes to play, but Marion came on strong down the stretch, and capitalized on a technical foul on Luers’ Tre Underwood for slamming the ball down when it was a one-point game. After initially putting the wrong player at the free-throw line, the officials took a Marion point off the board and engaged in a “do-over” (for lack of better description). After seven straight Marion free-throw attempts, and three official made free throws, the Giants pushed their lead to four points.

“We couldn’t climb out of that hole,” Luers coach J.J. Foster said. “For a senior-laden team, we were a little helter-skelter out there.”

Luers (5-3) was led by 20 points apiece from J.J. Foster Jr. and Anton Berry, and 14 points from Underwood.

The two coaches had a long discussion in the stands during the junior varsity game, displaying the bonds that tie high school basketball together. Foster was coaching at Harding (as an assistant boys coach to Al Gooden and then head girls coach) when Blackmon was at Luers. But they’ve known each other much longer.

“James and my brother (Tracy) played against each other and in the summertime we’d go to Marion and play,” Foster said. “We played against James and Jay (Edwards) and Lyndon (Jones) and all. Fort Wayne and Marion ball. It was fun.”

Blackmon had his eye on another game before tipoff, as James Jr. was playing for the Hoosiers against Wisconsin. Blackmon said his wife, Sailaja, was at the game with her parents. It’s a difficult juggling act coaching high school ball and catching two sons in different college environments. Blackmon plans to attend Vijay’s game as Saint Francis plays Grace on Wednesday night in Fort Wayne.

“James is at the point now where a couple more days and it’ll be a full year since surgery,” Blackmon said. “Accidents can happen, but when you get to that point, you start feeling normal. He’s feeling good and I’m happy about that.

“Vijay is enjoying his spot at Saint Francis. He has the best of both worlds being on campus but being able to come home and spend time with his little brother,” Blackmon said.

Little brother Jalen is an eighth grader at Blackhawk Middle School in Fort Wayne. The Blackmons still have a home here, although James spends most of his week in Marion.

Jalen Blackmon will likely reignite the father-son coaching situation again at Marion.

“It’d be hard not to (have Jalen enroll at Marion),” Blackmon said. “I can’t imagine coaching somewhere and seeing him play somewhere else.”

That should surprise no one. One year without a son on the roster is more than long enough for dad.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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For more on prep sports, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1

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