R.J. Blakney is the reincarnation of an “old school” basketball player.
So said his Dayton teammate DaRon Holmes II Wednesday night:
“We always say R.J. is one of those old school, great shooting guards like Clyde Drexler. If you ever watched back then, he plays like any of those great shooting guards. He can hit shots. He can fly through the air. Play great defense. He does it all.
“That’s what R.J. can do.”
That’s a mighty heady assessment, but you probably won’t get many arguments on that from Duquesne’s stellar guard Dae Dae Grant after the Flyers shut down the high-scoring Dukes 69-57 at UD Arena.
Grant, who played his first three seasons with the Miami RedHawks before transferring to Duquesne this season, came into the game averaging 17.9 points per game., fifth best in the Atlantic 10.
He already had 1,404 points in his career and had scored in double figures in 12 of the Dukes’ first 13 games.
But with Blakney guarding him, muscling him, bumping him, crowding him and generally making it rough on him, Grant scored eight.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-6 Blakney, who had four inches on Grant, who was guarding him, scored 17 points. It was Blakney’s best offensive outing in this 9-5 season and just two off his career-best 19 against Virginia Tech two years ago.
As for the “old school” reference, Holmes said it wasn’t unfounded:
“I’ll go to R.J.’s room sometimes and see he has a bunch of highlight (videos) from back then. So I know that’s where he gets it from.”
After Wednesday’s game, Blakney explained his fascination with the past: “I just watch random (videos) of the great players who came before me and try to do my studying that way.”
Later, UD coach Anthony Grant flashed a smile of appreciation when he heard about the old-school references and Holmes’ comparison to Drexler, a 10-tme NBA All Star, member of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and, after winning an NBA title with Houston and averaging 20.4 points per game during his 15-year pro career (22,195 points), a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame:
“That’s a heck of a compliment. Clyde the Glide was a really good one.”
Grant said that was the first time he’s heard one of his players mentioned alongside Drexler, who retired from the NBA four years before Holmes was even born.
“The Internet is a great thing,” Grant said.
But even better, as far as the Flyers are concerned, are the contributions of Blakney.
“He just does what it takes to help you win ball games,” Grant said. “Tonight he was able to get his shots to go down, but every night he impacts winning.”
As for the old-school reference, Grant nodded in agreement: “I take that as a compliment and respect for the maturity that R.J. plays the game with.”
‘She still gives me pointers’
While the Drexler comparison was brought up Wednesday night, there’s another old-school player who was far more impactful on Blakney.
His mom — Dafne Lee Blakney — is a basketball legend herself.
She was a standout player for the University of Maryland, where she scored 992 career points and, in her four seasons (1988-1992), the Terrapins excelled in the NCAA Tournament, going to the Final Four, the Elite Eight and twice to the Sweet Sixteen.
She played as a pro in Switzerland, Belgium, Israel and Greece and then became a celebrated coach, winning a state high school girls title in Maryland and later guiding top junior college teams.
She raised R.J. mostly on her own and when he was a baby she coached with him in an infant carrier strapped to her shoulders.
As a preschooler, R.J. sat on the bench of his mom’s teams and the subs looked after him. He would ride the team bus and at halftime — as his mom and the players retreated to the dressing room — he would grab a ball and put on a shooting exhibition on the court, as the crowd cheered.
In high school, he scored 1,800 points at St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, Maryland and then starred at a Connecticut prep school.
He said he talks to his mom, who’s back in Maryland, every day:
“She still gives me pointers. I’ll never be too big for her coaching.”
As for comparisons to her, he shook his head:
“I try not to think of it as me compared to her. I’m just trying to build my own thing.
“My mom was a great player and she played on some great teams. I’m definitely chasing her.”
When he went back home for Christmas, his gift to her was tickets to an NBA game in Philadelphia. It was the night the 76ers beat the L.A. Clippers 119-114 and center Joel Embiid scored 44 points.
‘He’s a junkyard dog’
Blakney said his embrace of defense started when he was a kid:
“When I was younger, I played outside a lot and we had a game called 50 and you had to stop your guy in order to get the ball. Otherwise, if he scored, he just kept getting the ball back.
“I wanted to win. I was very competitive, so I had to play defense and I was able to get pretty good at it.”
At UD, Anthony Grant has made defense the calling card of the Flyers this season.
And that has helped make Blakney one of the most valuable players on the team.
“Even on nights when his numbers don’t show on the stat sheet, he’s making an impact,” Grant said. “We always ask him to guard one of the better offensive talents on the other team. And he understands the role we’ve asked him to play to help the team be successful. He’s bought in 100 percent.”
With Dae Dae Grant, who had scored over 20 points in six games this season, Blakney said he knew he had a challenge:
“He’s a really good player. From the scouting report, I knew he came in as an NBA-range shooter.
“I had to really lock in and trust my teammates and trust my coaches and do what I had to do limit his touches and limit the spots that he likes.
“With a player like that, you can’t let him get comfortable because he can get hot at any moment. I remember one he made on me and I was like, ‘Ahh, man!’ I’ve got to stay alert. A player like that can go off at any moment,
“I tried to use my size and my length and I tried to knock him off his spot.”
Blakney did that throughout the game and no sequence showed that more than one following a Duquesne time out with 7:48 left.
The Dukes were down by 15 and it appeared they were pinning their hopes on Grant to help lift them back into the game.
But before he could launch a three, Blakney managed to nudge him further away from the basket than usual and his shot missed.
The next time the Dukes got the ball, Grant drove the lane, but Blakney blocked his lay-up attempt.
A few minutes later, Blakney got the ball deep inside and — with Grant playing tight defense on him — he juked, used a drop step and slipped around the surprised Duke and dunked.
For the night, Blakney made 7 of 11 field goal attempts, including three of four from three-point range. He added three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“R.J. can do this every night,” Holmes said. “It’s excellent having a teammate like that. He makes the game easier for the rest of us. He does exactly what we need him to do every night. He plays at both ends of the floor and he has that toughness.
“He’s a junkyard dog.”
That’s not as poetic as Clyde the Glide.
But it still sounds pretty old school.