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By the end of last year, Blackmon was playing at the level of the top basketball players in the area
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Jamari Blackmon goes to help a teammate up in Hoover’s Final Four loss to McGill-Toolen last season.
With five seconds remaining on the clock, Jamari Blackmon takes the inbounds pass and calmly jogs up the court. One dribble. Two dribbles. Clock running.
In this situation, most players would sprint toward the basket on the opposite end as quickly as possible, more often than not flying into the lane completely out of control. At that point, a last-second shot is typically nothing more than wishful thinking, a blind attempt without an awareness of the open man in the corner.
On Blackmon’s third dribble, now a step shy of half court, he instantly accelerates past his defender. He attempts a behind-the-back crossover near the wing, and loses control of the ball for an instant, allowing his defender to regain position.
Homewood tied the game on the previous possession with a pair of free throws, as the 2016 Class 6A state champions visited the Bucs, who advanced to the Class 7A state semifinals last season, in a big-time early-season clash. Blackmon already had scored 21 points for Hoover, and was the clear and obvious choice to take the last shot.
Now at the top of the key with the final tenths-of-a-second evaporating quicker than the eye can see, Blackmon elevates. His defender’s outstretched arm is now in his face, and forces Blackmon to double clutch. He gets the shot off, but it bounds off the back of the rim. But in that same moment, the whistle blows.
Hoover started last season 2-9 through its first 11 games, as the 2015 state champion team graduated nine seniors. The Bucs were forced to reload in 2016, but head coach Charles Burkett put together a loaded schedule that was going to test his young team.
Blackmon led the Bucs through that storm, one they endured and reaped great benefits from. At the Final Four, Blackmon scored 29 points in a close overtime loss to McGill-Toolen.
A foul is called on the shot as time expires, sending Blackmon to the free-throw stripe. He has three tries to make one and send the Bucs home a winner. The first one falls with ease. The bench clears and makes a beeline straight for the hero.
Blackmon summed up the moment succinctly.
“It feels really good,” he said.
HITTING THE SCENE
Jamari Blackmon’s name was not a familiar one across the high school basketball scene before last season began. As a ninth-grader, he played on the freshman basketball team.
“To be honest with you, Jamari could’ve played with us as a freshman,” Burkett said. “We had nine seniors, and we were strong. I’m a firm believer in you play to get better, as opposed to sitting. He wouldn’t have gotten enough reps.”
While Dylan Smith, Austin Cherry and the Bucs were on the way to the 2015 state championship, Blackmon was busy leading his freshman team to an unbeaten season.
The next point guard may not have been obvious to fans at the time, but Burkett knew what he had waiting on the freshman roster.
“He was a shoo-in,” Burkett said, who started Blackmon in every game last season as a sophomore.
Blackmon took his lumps along with the rest of the team early last season. The Bucs struggled out of the gate, as a young team with young leaders facing top-level competition night-in and night-out.
“Just the overall pace of the game and the level of competition that we play,” Burkett said of Blackmon’s adjustment to the varsity level. “There’s no nights off for us … He was exposed early, but he answered the challenge by the end of the year.”
By the end of the year, Blackmon was playing at the level of the top players in the area. He led the team to victories over James Clemens and Oak Mountain to advance to the Final Four in Birmingham, where he had his big game in the Final Four.
The overtime loss hit the sophomore like a ton of bricks.
“It was tough,” Blackmon said. “We worked really hard. Just to get there and lose in overtime after doing all that, it was heartbreaking.”
But a person’s response to adversity is a defining moment in basketball and in life.
“We worked really hard in the offseason. We started about a month after, and we just went at it and went full speed the whole time,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon is the complete package as a guard.
“He’s a two-way guard,” Burkett said. “He defends, he’s one of our top defenders and I think he’s one of the best defenders around, not just on our team. He’s a triple threat guy. He handles it; he can get to the basket; he finishes; he’s got a good midrange game, and he can shoot the three-ball.”
With that wide-ranging skill set, Blackmon could easily point to one aspect of his game that he needed to improve: finishing through contact.
“Last year, he could get to the basket, but he wasn’t able to finish,” Burkett said. “Now, he’s beefed up, and he’ll finish those.”
Blackmon got in the gym and the weight room, put on 10 pounds and is already reaping the benefits of that offseason work.
“I would come in [during the summer] and get one of my teammates to get the pad and hit me with it. It’s hard. I finish with my left hand, too, finishing strong,” Blackmon said.
Opposing coaches laud Blackmon’s toughness. According to Burkett, he is humble and laid-back, but extremely competitive.
“You can’t get caught up in him not talking trash and parallel that to him not being tough,” Burkett said. “That’s the worst thing you could do, because he’s a competitor, and he’s a scorer.”
Blackmon has dreams of being a future college and professional basketball player. His ceiling is high, and Burkett calls him one of the top guards in the state.
“I think he put everybody on notice last year as a sophomore, and I think he’s going to continue to do that,” Burkett said.