Glen Burnie's Garrett Blackstone has become a vocal presence on both offense and defense for the improving Gophers

Captain Versatility

Basketball

January 10, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,SUN REPORTER

The five points that Glen Burnie senior forward Garrett Blackstone scored in the team's season-opening win last month didn't come close to the 17 he averaged as a first-team All-County selection last year. But Gophers coach Mike Rudd still left plenty impressed with his versatile team captain.

To go with those few but timely points that night, the 6-foot-4 Blackstone grabbed big rebounds, found open teammates, clamped down on defense and made sure to bark out some positive words in the team huddle - all of which has continued as the No. 7 Gophers have progressed through a 9-1 season.

Blackstone, who has played every position in his three-year varsity career at Glen Burnie, has displayed more urgency this season, and he has a direct and simple explanation.

"To me, it's like, this is my last time playing high school basketball. I know I've got to leave it all out on the court," said Blackstone, who is averaging 13 points, eight rebounds, 2.4 assists and two steals this season, playing mostly at small or power forward.

Along with fellow senior captains Kareem Downs (team-high 14.2 points) and Desean Antoine (12 points), Blackstone went to Rudd before the season with a lofty goal: returning to the state tournament for the first time since the Gophers reached the semifinals in 2004.

With balanced scoring, - all three captains average in double figures - a deep bench and good team size to create mismatches for opponents, Blackstone and the Gophers are confident it can be a special season.

A major test comes this weekend when Glen Burnie competes in the Basketball Academy at Morgan State University. On Friday, the Gophers will take on City at 6:30 p.m., and then come back Saturday to play Dunbar at 9 p.m. Blackstone sees the challenge as an ideal chance to showcase the team's abilities and prepare for the postseason run.

"We got a nice mix - everybody can hold their own and there's no slack," said Blackstone, who has improved his grade point average to 2.6 after battling eligibility problems earlier in his high school career. "It's going to take hard work in practice, and we're taking everything more seriously. It's about business this season."

Rudd is quick to point out that Blackstone always put in his work during his first two seasons. But this season, Rudd has seen a different player, and he has enjoyed watching his standout go from a quiet player who preferred leading by example to a vocal presence who brings a complete and unselfish game.

Blackstone speaking up in a team huddle was something that would not have happened in years past. And when he's been on the floor, he's saved his best play for the biggest moments.

"He was very nonchalant in his first two years, and I'm not saying he didn't work hard. But he didn't play with the same fire in his belly that he's playing with right now," Rudd said.

Strong and quick, Blackstone is a presence on offense that few teams can figure out.

"You put a guard on him - a quick guard - and he's too strong for him," North County coach Mike Francis said. "And if you put a big kid on him, he's too fast. He's very strong, very aggressive, and he has that versatility."

Basketball has been a major factor in Blackstone's life since childhood. While growing up, he always had the benefit of playing with older kids, whether it was his brother, Victor, or his cousin, Keith Williams, who starred at Glen Burnie the last time the Gophers made their state tournament run.

"I had a basketball hoop up in our front yard, and him and his brother would be playing every night until 9 or 10," said Blackstone's father, Victor. "My wife would have to yell out, `I'm turning out the light, so get in here and get to bed.'"

"Garrett was smaller than my oldest son, and my oldest would always be banging on him. Even I would go out there and beat up on them a little bit. My wife would get upset with me, but I'd say, `I'm just helping them get better.'"

This season, Garrett's family has grown.

"Coach Rudd is always talking about the tradition and how he always tries to make sure this team is a family," Garrett Blackstone said. "I think that's real important. You just can't go out there on the court and play with any five guys. You've got to be close like a family, and we are."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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